The Unemployment Perk No One Knows About 1

swedish chef


I was laid off in March from my editor job at SF Weekly, and aside from freelancing, watching Seinfeld re-runs, and fighting with the EDD to get my UI benefits (a full-time job in and of itself!), I also started going back to school. A friend (who’s a kick-ass designer, by the way), told me about a federal program called the WIA (Workforce Investment Act). The WIA offers counseling, support, job market info, and up to $4,000 in education and training in a variety of different fields.

Once I learned about all the programs I could pursue, I briefly dreamed of eschewing my  media/technology goals and pursuing my childhood fantasy of becoming the Swedish Chef from The Muppets. (Ed. note: There is a really cool program called The Bread Project for low-income people who want to become bakers/work in the food service industry.)

However, upon remembering that I don’t like waking up at 3 a.m., I decided instead to pursue a Web Development certificate through the BAVC (Bay Area Video Coalition), which I started this month. Hooray!

I won’t lie — getting funding for WIA training was kind of an arduous process, but it’s proved to be totally worthwhile. Here are a few of the hoops I had to jump through:

  • Enroll in East Bay Works, the career center in Oakland
  • Attend 16 hours worth of job skills classes, including how to write a resume, how to interview, job search, etc.
  • Stage two informational interviews with people in the field I was interested in pursuing
  • Perform a mock interview with two career coaches
  • Write a personal statement defending why I deserved funding
  • Take three SAT-type tests in reading, math, and graphical information (which forced me to go home and look up how to calculate the volume of a cylinder because I had forgotten from 9th grade geometry)
  • And, somewhat bafflingly, take an online quiz and print out all the information pertaining to my Myers-Briggs personality type

The friend who introduced me to the program didn’t have to jump through nearly as many of these hoops to receive funding, so I guess it varies depending on the career center you attend. But as I was attending all the job skills classes, the one overarching theme that kept coming up with me and my fellow job hunters was how few people knew what the WIA was or how it helped people get jobs.

So hopefully this blog post will help demystify the process a little. (I plan on doing a whole “how to survive unemployment” series here, so if you have topics you’d like me to address, holla at me in the comments or by email.)

I highly encourage those who are unemployed, low-income, or self-employed to find out if you’re eligible for training. From the WIA website:

While eligible laid-off workers are generally individuals who have been terminated from their last employment and are unlikely to return to their previous industry or occupation, displaced homemakers and self-employed individuals also may qualify for these services.

And here is the list of approved schools in California and what courses they offer. If you’ve been wanting to pursue a different career but lacked the money for training, this may be your golden ticket.

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