"Employment retraining" has become a specialty for Joe Sebelin, executive director of the Pocono Counties Workforce Investment Area.

In today's economy, training people for new careers when they lose their existing jobs has become a busy service.

"Individuals can now collect unemployment for 79 weeks," he said. "They should use that time to get retrained. They qualify for retraining money from us."

Sebelin works closely with the Carbon County CareerLink and other agencies involving people who have no employment or who have lost their jobs.

He admits that finding jobs for people has become a more difficult task. The state unemployment rate in July was 8.5 percent and both Carbon and Schuylkill counties had jobless rates of 10.1 percent, which is nearly 4 percent higher than the previous year.

Sebelin explained how the career scene has changed in the past two decades.

"Twenty years ago, you could graduate from high school and go into the military," he said. "When you got out, you worked at Bethlehem Steel or the Zinc Company. You had 2.5 kids. You worked the same place until you retired. It doesn't happen that way today. It's a rarity to get a job in which you retire."

Sebelin said the majority of workers in the area travel outside the area for employment. If you live in Carbon, you probably work in the Lehigh Valley. In Monroe, you might be employed in New Jersey. If you live in Pike County, you take the I-84 corridor to New York and New Jersey.

Sebelin offers solid advice for those in the growing ranks of the unemployed.

"If you have the misfortune of being laid off, you are fortunate to have training money and 79 weeks of unemployment," he said. "It's the worst of times, but it's the best of times for training."

He stressed not to wait until the last weeks of unemployment before you begin training.

"Start on week 2 or 3. Look at the list of jobs on which you can progress," he said.

He added there are job opportunities, following training, for welders, truck drivers, and certified nursing assistants (CNAs).

"We can help you find training and pay for the schooling," he said.

There is also demand for individuals with hands-on skills, such as carpentry, plumbing, and air conditioning. To qualify for such skill training, he said applicants should initially go to CareerLink.

He said when a plant closes, he or a staff member will go into the plant and make the personnel aware of the benefits.

Sebelin pointed out that his office has become a busy place. Some of the company layoffs in recent years have included 300 at Roadway; 350 at Liz Claiborne; 47 at Scotty's Fashions; and 100 at Silberline.

Sebelin said there are 22 Workforce Investment Areas in Pennsylvania. He is on a board of 32 members which covers Carbon, Monroe, Pike, and Wayne Counties. The chairman of the board is Ronald Blizard of Nesquehoning, who is employed at the Kovatch Corporation in Nesquehoning.

He explained that for the unemployed, the first step is to meet with Garry Wentz at the CareerLink office. Wentz helps individuals register and will have them complete an application to participate in the training programs.

Sebelin said community college is another valuable resource for increasing your work opportunities.

"It's a perfect time to look at community college," he said.

Degrees are important in obtaining work in places such as Tobyhanna Army Depot, which is the largest area employer with 5,000 employees. Applicants with associate degrees in areas such as electronics have a much better chance at these specialized jobs.

He said it's important for individuals to learn several skills. Degree programs are available at Lehigh Carbon Community College or Northampton County Community College.

"We can assist," Sebelin said.

In some cases, individuals might also consider vocational training and trade schools.

"We need to really emphasize vocational skills," he said, adding, "not that there's anything wrong with college."

He encouraged unemployed individuals to not give up hope.

"You do, right now, have support," he said. "you have unemployment compensation and we can help you train for a new career."