Since the Back to Work Now program began last year, 90 percent of participants have been able to return to work after they complete the sessions.

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Few things are harder than putting your heart into a job search, only to find out someone else got the job. But for those who have been off work over two years, it can feel like a never-ending battle.

At a WorkSource office in Redmond, employment specialist Jim Groak has embraced the long-term unemployed population. After 30 years as a recruiter, he now works for the federally-funded Back to Work Now program. Along with a co-facilitator, Art Dreeben, he’s helping those who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks, many of whom have exhausted their unemployment benefits.

Statistics for this population are not encouraging. When someone is unemployed for more than 27 weeks, the prospects of getting back to work fade quickly. One study last year from the Brookings Institution found that only 11 percent of this population had returned to steady full-time employment one year later.

But something different is happening for the Back to Work Now participants. Since the program began last year, 90 percent have been able to return to work after they complete the five three-hour “boot camp” sessions.

In the sessions, the presenters use humor and real-life examples to hold the attention of the group. One recent sunny Friday afternoon, Groak and Dreeben led a group of 10 participants, who listened to tricky interview scenarios and tips. Dreeben moved through the room, asking how individuals would respond if they encountered a particular situation.

It seemed as much support group as training session, with everyone engaged and jotting down notes as if they were sitting in a college classroom.

The door opened and Diana Hadman, of Sumner, found a seat. She explained that she had just come from an interview, her second since starting the program.

She says the employment specialists have been a great help. “They will answer your emails, and they will help when you need them,” says Hadman, who has been looking for a project manager position in the Seattle area.

When she found out that she had an opportunity to meet with an employer the next day, the team jumped in with an emergency mock interview to sharpen her skills and give her some practice.

In other sessions, participants learn how to identify their transferrable skills, target their résumés, pick up networking tips and develop responses to behavioral interview questions.

Groak notices the most dramatic part of job loss is the decrease in self-confidence. The median age of those in the program is 55, and often, they had been at the same job for the majority of their career. Suddenly, they are sending out résumés and trying to find work like they did in the past, but job searching has changed, Groak says.

Another benefit to the Back to Work Now program is access to free resources, as well as continuing WorkSource support after the program ends. It could be something as simple as a haircut or a referral for training or counseling. A mental health support group is now part of the program to help with the stress and depression that can take hold after being out of work for so long.

As their confidence returns, the participants start working together and often share job leads with each other. Toward the end of the program, sessions are held with recruiters and HR professionals who are hiring in all sorts of industries. Groak says the chance to have an interview with someone from the community and practice what they have learned is invaluable.

It’s a great thing to watch the participants become revitalized, Groak says: “All of a sudden, a fire starts and there really is no stopping them.”