PITTSBURG -- Sixty people showed up last week for the St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County Workforce Development Program orientation -- all vying for the same 10 jobs.
But those odds didn't scare participants like Antioch's Kevin Tucker, who said he understood the nonprofit is trying to attract motivated employees like himself.
"I want a career, I want to work," said Tucker, 26, who has had jobs in construction. "I'm just looking for something to do instead of all this trouble my friends are getting into on the streets."
Tucker was part of the largest turnout yet for the free job training and work experience program, which already has graduated four groups -- nearly 50 people -- who are entering or re-entering the workforce.
Run by the Catholic charity, the program has no religious requirements, only that applicants are willing to work.
"We believe that our community becomes stronger when more people are able to get into the work they want to be doing," said Dick Josephson, a volunteer who helps run the program.
This week, the orientation's participants who still want one of those 10 part-time temporary positions have returned for three workshops, where they are learning crucial skills like interview etiquette, resume writing and job search techniques.Those who attend all three workshops then will be interviewed for the positions in the charity's two Contra Costa thrift stores and warehouses, or even driving their delivery trucks.
It might seem like a lot of hoops to jump through to land a 24-hour-per-week job, but the process helps to narrow the applicant pool to those who are the most motivated and likely to be reliable employees, organizers say.
The volunteers who run the program have seen firsthand that it also can be the challenge participants need to push themselves to change their lives.
"You don't have to be perfect, but you have to be better than all the other people looking for the same work," volunteer Ron Costanzo told the crowd.
The jobs at St. Vincent last only six months, but for many employees that is the first step toward rebuilding their resumes. Many have been incarcerated or lost jobs due to addiction, so they have gaps in their work experience that can disqualify them in the eyes of other employers. Ideally, holding down this job will be what vouches for someone being a good hire for a future, full-time job.
Plus, that old adage often proves true -- it's much easier to find a job when you already have one.
"This is going to be very helpful to get back out there again," said Pleasant Hill resident Christine Anker, who has not worked in three years.
Anker said she was laid off from her job as a dental assistant in 2009, then relapsed into addiction after having been clean for seven years and found herself homeless.
"My life was completely out of control," she said.
Now, a week away from completing residential treatment and fully committed to a 12-step program, she sees the Workforce Development Program as her gateway to re-entering the dental field and, eventually, having her own home again.
Stephen Krank, the director of St. Vincent de Paul's Pittsburg office, said he has seen interest in the program and in his charity's services in general increase steadily in the wake of the recession.
With economic forecasts up, many who lost their jobs over the past five years are just now testing the waters, Krank said.
"The best thing about the workforce program is engagement," he said. "You have to want to."