County jobs office navigates the rough terrain of unemployment |

County jobs office navigates the rough terrain of unemployment

by Scott Neuffer

Employment coordinator Denise Castle calls it a journey – a journey of loss and pain, of recovery and redemption, from the depths of an obsolete reality to the brink of a new world.

“A lot of people are mourning their past lifestyles,” Castle said. “Things have changed. You have to mourn what’s lost. You have to get over it in order to get to that other side of new industry and new jobs. My goal is to help people through that.”

For the past year, Castle has been on the front lines of one of the most stubborn and destructive recessions in modern history. From her small office in Douglas County’s social services division, she’s acted as the sole coordinator of the county’s year-old employment training and job development program, which, funded by federal stimulus dollars and community block grants, offers free assistance to those seeking work.

In her short tenure, Castle has watched the unemployment rate in Douglas County climb from 12 percent to 15 percent. She’s watched more than 80 clients grapple with the cruel realities of a local economy suddenly void of construction jobs and giving little in the way of other industries.

It’s a brutal cycle, she knows. Growth slows, sales fall, and jobs evaporate. Those without work have less to spend, way less, exacerbating the downfall and causing more businesses to close or cut positions, more people out of work, more sinking.

“It’s a different world than it was five years ago,” said Castle, once a victim of corporate layoffs herself. “I have people in here with master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, everything from legal assistants to janitorial professionals. This is not a welfare-to-work problem. These are family members, friends, neighbors – a whole generation of individuals who need that little assistance for the first time in their lives.

“These are individuals who once held high-ranking positions in organizations, who now are applying for entry-level positions. Wages are not the same. People have to deal with seeking and accepting much lower wages than they had over the last 10-15 years. The harsh reality is that a lot of lifestyles have changed.”

But there’s hope, Castle maintains. More than 50 percent of her clients have gone on to find work in that “little bit of hiring in every sector.”

“The hardest thing is the frustration,” she said, “struggling with basic everyday needs, battling desperation, depression. It takes hope and knowledge, and we’re trying to do that – provide hope to battle depression, to break out of isolation, and then the knowledge of what it takes in today’s job market.”

Twice a week, Castle hosts a free networking and support group for job seekers at the public library in Minden.

“We want to connect others on the same journey,” she said. “The more people who know what you’re looking for the better.”

Castle has also organized a set of free seminars at Merrill Gardens focusing on resume preparation, search strategies and interview skills.

“We want to teach you how to be more competitive in today’s market in terms of what it takes to find employment, to be prepared and market yourself,” she said. “There are people who’ve suffered prolonged unemployment, and for the first time in their lives, they’re not certain how to begin an effective job search. We have people from the construction industry who’ve never had to complete a resume before. In today’s environment, you have to have a resume.”

The program also helps those who’ve already made the transition but might be struggling in a new position.

“We’ll focus on what you can expect in the first 90 days of employment,” Castle said. “Some people have been at the same job for 15-20 years, so the change makes them feel alienated or foreign.”

Castle said the employment training and job development program is part of the county’s larger economic vitality plan.

“We’re not a placement agency,” she said. “We specialize in job readiness and we have links to recruiters. Part of what we do is business outreach. We’re a member of the chamber, and we want to be part of any recruitment effort where we can link employers to job seekers.”

Inside the social services building on Spruce Street, a resource room has been set up with four computers, Internet access, office equipment, and resume paper and templates. Appointments are necessary, but job seekers can use the room free of charge.

“I don’t claim to have a magic wand,” Castle said, “but I know we need to work together.”

What: two-day interactive seminar with guest speakers Matt Kosifas of Hired Dynamics and Christina Slade, retired from Nevada Job Connect

When: 8:30 a.m. check-in for first day, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sept. 14-15, Sept. 21-22

Where: Merrill Gardens at Gardnerville, conference room, 1565-A Virginia Ranch Road

Info: 782-9825, pre-registration required

What: networking and support group for unemployed

When: 9-10 a.m. Mondays, 3:30-4:30 p.m. Thursdays

Where: Douglas County Public Library, 1625 Library Lane, Minden

Info: 782-9825, no registration or appointment necessary

What: computers, Internet, office supplies

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (not including noon to 1 p.m.) Monday through Friday

Where: Douglas County social services division, 1133 Spruce St., Gardnerville

Info: 782-9825,