WASHINGTON (AP) -- With unemployment at an eight-year high, the Bush administration is reaching out to private companies to help workers find jobs.
Home Depot Inc. announced Wednesday it has started working with the Labor Department to fill 40,000 new full- and part-time jobs this year. Toys ''R'' Us has expressed interest in such a partnership and Citigroup wants to expand its program.
The partnerships ''will enable workers to access greater employment opportunities and brighter futures,'' Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said.
The nation's unemployment rate hit 6 percent in April, and economists expect it to edge up again when May's report is released Friday by the Labor Department. Last year's recession has ended, but analysts say the unemployment rate will continue to climb through the summer because businesses are reluctant to hire back workers until recovery is certain.
The Labor Department, through its 1,800 One-Stop Career Centers across the country, will recruit, screen and refer job applicants to Home Depot stores. The home-improvement retailer also will work with the employment centers to train potential workers for a range of jobs, from cashiers to department managers to store, district and regional managers.
''These men and women would take on very responsible jobs that have good pay, good benefits and a lot of opportunity,'' said Robert Nardelli, Home Depot chairman, president and chief executive.
The Atlanta-based company plans to open 200 new stores across the country this year, growing to more than 1,300 locations. Home Depot is on target to continue that rate for another three years -- for 120,000 more new jobs.
''That's a lot of jobs for a lot of workers,'' said Emily Stover DeRocco, assistant labor secretary for employment and training. ''That's a lot of unemployment checks that turn into paychecks right away.''
The service sector, which includes retail jobs at employers such as Home Depot, is the engine of job growth in the country. But those positions typically don't pay good wages or offer benefits.
The average pay of a Home Depot worker is $11.40 an hour, Nardelli said. Entry-level pay is about $8 an hour. The minimum wage is $5.15 an hour.
Most Home Depot stores employ a combination of full- and part-time workers, ranging from 60 percent full-time to 40 percent full-time, Nardelli said.
Home Depot has just started offering health care insurance coverage to its part-time workers, but the company doesn't pick up any of the cost, as it does for full-timers. Part-time workers still can buy into the same coverage for reduced prices based on Home Depot's group purchasing. The company didn't immediately provide a range of costs for insurance.
The company also has started a profit-sharing program, and offers tuition reimbursement and stock-purchase programs.
The Labor Department was prompted to explore the Home Depot partnership and others because of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey that found that 95 percent of businesses did not know the agency has services available to help them find and train workers, DeRocco said. The Labor Department spends $10 billion annually on such services.
The Bush administration has proposed $474 million in job training cuts in next year's budget.
The department already is working with financial services company Citigroup at eight of its locations and plans are under way to expand to five more, DeRocco said. Jobs have been filled in everything from Citigroup's call centers to its financial services offices.
The Labor Department also is in discussions with retailer Toys ''R'' Us about a national partnership similar to Home Depot's, DeRocco said. Other programs are being considered with a variety of health care-related companies.
On the Net:
Labor Department's National Business Partnership: http://www.nbpjobs.org
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