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Editorial: JobGateway a portal to partnership

When the Business Journal talked to Julia Hearthway in 2012, the secretary of Labor and Industry had been on the job barely a year, but she was already on a mission.

She wanted, she told us, to implement a plan she called “job matching on steroids” to address unemployment. The department was saddled with a cumbersome, ineffective system firmly rooted in the mid-20th century while the state was grappling with an 8.1 percent jobless rate.

Later that year, JobGateway launched. The online portal now has more than 88,000 employers and nearly 408,000 job candidates registered on the site. In the meantime, Pennsylvania's unemployment rate plummeted to 5.6 percent this May.

While it's impossible to draw a correlation, since the economy has improved considerably over the same period, one thing is certain: What we have now, while not perfect, is much better.

JobGateway pulls together job openings from all over the state and can help candidates prepare by offering interview tips, even providing practice sessions, by industry. It boosts employers' chances of finding good matches through a better database and allows follow-up screening.

This enhanced functionality depends not just on technology but on human beings. If a critical mass of employers and job-seekers didn't use JobGateway, it would be useless. That's where the General Assembly got smart. By state law, anyone receiving unemployment benefits must register with the site and actively seek work.

That's also a sore point for critics. Despite alarmist reports that 50,000 people lost benefits after failing to register, Hearthway says, half those people never were eligible and the other half experienced only delays in receiving them; the site has 94 percent compliance.

Implicit in the “benefits lost” outcry was the idea that unemployment benefits, as an entitlement, shouldn't come with strings. That is nonsense. Benefits are earned, in the first place, through the simple fact of being employed for a minimum amount of time to qualify.

In fact, it's embarrassing to admit that Pennsylvania was the last state in the nation to expect this of its workforce.

The entitlement-as-gift misconception taints many safety-net programs, from unemployment benefits and workers' compensation to Social Security and disability payments. None of these are free. Just as government must find a way to fund them, those who qualify pay as well, through taxes or continuing to meet eligibility rules. And just as an honest day's work benefits employer and employee, there is profit for both in a program like JobGateway. 

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