ORLANDO, Fla. — By most observations, little has remained the same since the start of the pandemic one year ago.

Businesses that have since reopened have changed their ways. Their staffs are a fraction of what they once were, leaving people like Joanne Santiago to figure out what to do next.

What You Need To Know

  • Finding work remains tough for those who lost jobs due to COVID

  • Many business staffs are now a fraction of their size prior to pandemic

  • Applications by many unemployed are not resulting in new positions

  • CareerSource helping some people get jobs, train for new ones

Like millions of Floridians who faced furloughs and layoffs, Santiago is among those who is still trying to rebound. The single mom of a 6-year-old daughter has yet to find a new job after being laid off as a cashier for a major retailer in Orlando.

“I’ve been putting in applications everywhere, but no call back, nothing,” Santiago said. “I figured it would be easy to find [a new job], but I fill out all of the applications, and you call, they tell you to speak to a manager, and the manager tells you the position is not available. But, I see it posted online.”

Returning to work is paramount for Santiago. She’s facing eviction, with an Orange County judge providing a temporary stay on removal per the Centers For Disease Control’s eviction protection program. Santiago’s car was recently repossessed, and she said she is still owed more than a month’s worth of unemployment benefits.

“I’m in the dark because every which way, I go and try to handle my situation and look for a job,” Santiago said. “I’ve applied, I’ve called, and I’ve gotten nowhere.”

Countless Floridians have shared their stories of their job search struggles. People like Mindy Weiss and Jeanne Tsoulas.

Both are laid off from their jobs, and because of their age, fear they face greater adversity in being rehired by companies who would prefer hiring younger people.

“I started applying, and I’ve applied for at least 100 jobs,” Ty Menard said. “I’ve kind of lost track.”

Menard is still furloughed from his entertainment production job.

He had hoped to be back to work long ago, but that rolling setback has moved to some point later this year at the earliest.

“I was looking for jobs, but entertainment in Central Florida has essentially be squashed,” Menard said.

He focused on jobs within his industry nationwide, willing to make the move. With no callbacks, he expanded his search locally.

“Desperation, I heard back from not many, but a few management jobs, saying I was overqualified for retail jobs or all of these roadblocks, or nothing, radio silence,” Menard said, estimating he’s heard from only three jobs out of the more than 100 applications he filed.

Told he was "overqualified" for retail and restaurant management jobs, Menard has now settled for a part-time retail job. 

Menard, Santiago, Weiss, and Tsoulas are not alone.

Making a Change

CareerSource Central Florida estimates it’s helped more than 41,000 people with job search assistance since July, a 30% increase in demand for help.

Notable for an area in which the economy is anchored by tourism jobs.

“We’ve seen hospitality workers upskill and enter some of our training programs to pivot into a new industry,” CareerSource Central Florida’s Lesley Harris said.

CareerSource Central Florida covers five counties (Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter, and Lake), but the network covers the entire state.

The nonprofit, funded by the state and federal governments, provides an array of free job-search assistance services.

“We can offer resume assistance, career coaching, interview tips,” Harris said. “We can provide scholarship opportunities for training for upskilling.”

CareerSource Central Florida works with youth as well as adults.

“Our goal is to help people get back on their feet as quickly as possible,” Harris said.

The CareerSource network also provides direct job placement services, with CareerSource Central Florida leading placement for more than 450 jobs alone. Harris said the industries hiring the greatest number of people currently include health care, trade and logistics, manufacturing, and construction.

The challenge for some is finding work that’s within their realm of skillsets and experience.

Those like Santiago said they want to work but need employers willing to give them a chance.