Over half of laid-off Alcoans working or in job training

Workforce staff doesn't see evidence of exodus from town
By Mike Brown
Reporter Editor

Eighteen laid-off Alcoans have enrolled in heavy-equipment operator classes at Rockdale's new Associated Training Services.Eighteen laid-off Alcoans have enrolled in heavy-equipment operator classes at Rockdale's new Associated Training Services.More than 21 months after layoffs were completed from the closing of Alcoa’s Rockdale Operations smelter, more than half those who lost their jobs are working again or training for new positions.

According to figures released by Workforce Solutions of Central Texas (WSCT), 415 of the 884 hourly and salaried workers laid off in 2008 and 2009 are working again.

Seventy-one have gone to work for Luminant.

An additional 98 are in training for new jobs at area educational institutions or training schools such as the new Associated Training Services branch in Rockdale where 18 laid-off Alcoans enrolled.

That’s 513 of the 884 (58 percent) employed or in job training.

“That doesn’t include anyone who is self employed,” Cynthia Jerman, workforce development coordinator said.

Jerman said Alcoa figures show 204 laid off employees opted for a retirement/pension package.

“Some of those 204 may also be in the 415 who are working again,” she said. “But certainly not all of them.”


The Rockdale WSCT office has been instrumental in linking the laid-off Alcoas with new jobs and is proud of the results their efforts have produced.

“There were months when we had as many as 4,000 visits from people looking for jobs,” Jerman said.

Neither Jerman nor WSCT development specialist James Powell has seen the mass exodus from Rockdale which was feared when Alcoa announced in 2008 it was shutting down the Rockdale smelter after 56 years of operation.

For starters, only about 35 percent of Alcoa employees listed Rockdale addresses.

“Right at the beginning we would see some of the youngest laid-off workers leave, those without long-standing ties to the community,” he said.

“But there are loPart of the Workforce Solutions of Central Texas management team (from left) James Powell and Julia Cardona, development specialists, and development coordinator Cynthia Jerman.Part of the Workforce Solutions of Central Texas management team (from left) James Powell and Julia Cardona, development specialists, and development coordinator Cynthia Jerman.ts of people that have been here for a long time, have family roots here and we didn’t see them leave,” Powell said.

Jerman said most of the supplementary unemployment benefit (SUB) pay and federal unemployment benefits have been exhausted by laid-off workers and that Rockdale is probably not feeling the full effects of Alcoa’s closing.

“I believe things have stabilized,” she said.

‘We listen’

It was natural for laid-off Alcoans to head for the WSCT office after the big layoffs.

“We had pretty much been functioning as Alcoa’s HR (human resources) department,” Jerman said. “People knew that when you wanted to get an Alcoa job you came to us. So it was only natural that when they lost their Alcoa jobs they came to us, too.”

The basic task was to match the individual to a new job, or to re-training, but for many of the laid-off Alcoans quite a bit had to be accomplished first.

“You had people entering the job market who hadn’t looked for a job in 30 years,” Jerman said. “They weren’t ready to go to a job interview. They weren’t ready to pass the Texas Basic Education class.”

So WSCT instituted its own preparatory classes in math, taught by development specialist Julia Cardona, and grammar, taught by Powell.

“We (the WSCT) actually listen and try our best to provide what they need,” Powell said.

“What we’re all about is seeing a need and filling it,” Jerman said. “We can respond quickly. We don’t need to get a permission or set a policy.”

Powell even offered “job interview” practice to many persons entering the market.

‘Wakeup call’

The WSCT’s service went far beyond all the nuts and bolts of matching jobs and job-seekers.

“The first thing for many was to provide a reality check, a wake-up call,” Jerman said.

“When this (layoffs) happened, it hit a lot of people who had been out there for decades. They were planning to keep on doing this until they retired and suddenly it was gone,” she said.

“You had people coming in who had been making $22 an hour and then they started seeing prospective jobs, if they were even open, at $8 an hour,” Jerman said.

“And I’m not talking only hourly people,” she said. “We had salaried people come in who had been getting $125,000 a year and they had to realize (when they got a new job) that just wasn’t going to happen again.”


Re-training was a big part of the effort.

United Steelworkers was able to obtain federal Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) re-training funds after successfully linking the Alcoa layoffs to jobs it claimed were exported to Iceland and other locations.

“There was also $2.5 million obtained through a National Emergency Grant,” Jerman said.

Computer training was a major part of the WSCT’s task. “That’s the way you look for jobs now,” she said. “We had to start out from scratch with some.”

“We really got involved with these people,” Jerman said.  “Of course it’s our jobs but we wanted to help them so much. We were so touched by their attitude. They came here because they knew we would take care of them.”

“I was so impressed by their kindness and patience with us,” Powell said.

Jerman said the “415 now working” figure came from a state database and does not include any persons still employed at the Alcoa atomizer or by the aluminum company in any other capacity.

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