By Nathan Baker
Carter and Johnson counties’ job seekers will have to travel — in some cases drive more than 50 miles — to access state services designed to help them land employment.
The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development is ending career job services at 34 locations, including those in Carter, Johnson and Unicoi counties, and about 125 employees are losing their jobs, effective no later than July 1, The Associated Press reported Friday.
According to information reported by News Channel 11, residents in Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties will use the Johnson City career center for service.
Residents in Johnson and Sullivan counties and Bristol will go to the career center in Kingsport.
Unemployed Mountain City residents will have to travel at least 55 miles, an hour-and-a-half trip by vehicle, to reach their assigned career center.
State Rep. Timothy Hill, who represents Johnson County and portions of Sullivan and Carter counties, said Saturday that he was “disappointed” to see the shrinking availability of services.
“We talk a lot about jobs, we want folks to be as ready as they can be, and these career centers provide a good bridge to them gaining employment,” Hill said. “I’m willing to take a look at or encourage an alternative to pop up to take its place.”
State Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimates show 2,380 Carter County residents unemployed in February. In Johnson County, 810 are listed as unemployed.
Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the agency, told The Tennessean that most of the affected employees were told of the layoffs in a meeting Thursday. A budget deficit is being blamed.
Hentschel said not all 34 offices will close because they are shared with other agencies, but career services will no longer be available at those offices.
The Associated Press reported that Burns Phillips, Tennessee’s acting labor commissioner, said the change will still be able to meet the needs of Tennessee’s unemployed population.
“We understand the importance of providing support to job seekers and take that responsibility seriously,” Burns said. “This plan allows us to rightsize the program and continue services to all 95 counties.”