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Published: Saturday, August 20, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Partnerships that work

Efforts to help give unemployed workers the skills they need to land new jobs are paying off

A survey released by the state Employment Security Department this month illustrates just how challenging it is to find a job in Washington today.
The department reports that only 25 percent of the 47,000 people in Washington who have exhausted their unemployment benefits have found work. For those who have found work, four out of five are making less than in their former jobs -- an average of 29 percent less.
For those who remain unemployed, 13.5 percent report that they've given up looking. Nearly half of those surveyed said that their age is the toughest barrier to re-employment, but this perception may not be real. While those over 45 were more likely to exhaust their unemployment benefits (55 percent), they were more successful in finding work than their younger counterparts. In fact, of those who have found work, 58 percent are age 45 or older.
Other perceived barriers to employment include the sluggish economy (27 percent) and a lack of skills and education (8.5 percent).
While unemployment insurance (UI) has historically been a 26-week program to bridge the employment gap for those laid off through no fault of their own, during the "Great Recession," the state offered an additional 20 weeks of extended benefits for those who qualified. A federal stimulus program offered emergency unemployment compensation for an additional 53 weeks, making the maximum coverage for eligible jobless workers a total of 99 weeks.
When the 99 weeks of UI was implemented, we had no idea that so many would remain unemployed for so long. The first round of eligible "99-weekers" ran out of benefits in February this year, and each week more are added to the rolls.
In Snohomish County alone, more than 38,000 people are currently collecting unemployment insurance and more than 7,000 have exhausted their benefits. The county's June unemployment rate was 10.1 percent, lagging behind the rest of the state and the country, which both reported a rate of 9.2 percent.
This overwhelming flood of unemployed, and those who find work but are what we call underemployed -- unable to support themselves and their families -- can be depressing. It can make us fearful and stagnant.
That's not what's going to turn this jobless economy around.
There are jobs
At the same time, Dale Peinecke, chair of Workforce Development Council Snohomish County and CEO of local aerospace firm Giddens Industries, has had -- on any given day for the last three years -- 12 or more open positions. If you look at the job postings at a WorkSource center anywhere in the state of Washington, you'll find more than 22,000 available jobs.
Jobs are out there, but the people looking for work often don't have the necessary skills to qualify for them or, more importantly, don't know how to market themselves effectively to employers.
Re-skilling our workforce
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray visited Snohomish County recently, and Peinecke's machine shop, to talk about skills gaps between workers and the businesses that need them, and the help that workforce development programs can provide through industry-driven training programs -- that is, training people for jobs that will otherwise go unfilled.
Murray has long been a vocal supporter of federal workforce investment programs like the WorkSource centers, and of industry-driven training programs that are helping to teach jobless workers new skills or enhance existing skills so they'll qualify for positions in the local job market.
For example, we've all heard about the Boeing Co. increasing its airplane production rates; it added 2,500 jobs in Snohomish County in the last year alone. In fact, in April of 2011, Boeing was hiring 100 employees a week. The team at WorkSource Snohomish County saw an opportunity to connect unemployed job candidates to this important high-skill, high-wage business.
At WorkSource Snohomish County, staff started to notice a trend: Job candidates were struggling to apply for jobs at Boeing, which uses an online process that can be intimidating and cumbersome to the uninitiated. So we invited Boeing Human Resources professionals to the centers to talk to job candidates.
The response to the Passport to Aerospace Employment workshops was unparalleled. With standing room only, (and a long waiting list for future workshops), job candidates learned the ins and outs of the online application process, tips and tricks for getting noticed by Boeing recruiters, and how to ace a panel interview.
Seeing such an overwhelming need, WorkSource Snohomish County rapidly regrouped to host 30 Passport to Aerospace Employment workshops from April through July, serving 2,400 people, 1,568 of whom were receiving unemployment insurance.
After attending this workshop, job candidates are invited to attend further aerospace-specific workshops, including tailoring a resume to the aerospace industry, panel interview tips and practice, and more.
Like Sen. Murray, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon has made enhancing the skills of aerospace workers a key priority of his workforce development strategy for years. In fact, Snohomish County provided the 30,000-square-foot facility to house the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center (WATR), an industry-led training center run jointly by Edmonds Community College and the Aerospace Futures Alliance. This public-private partnership is a perfect example of the way industry can lead the way for workforce training -- training that ends in jobs.
Gov. Chris Gregoire has also been supportive, announcing in May that $3 million in federal discretionary funds would go to train workers for the aerospace industry. About $600,000 of that money is coming to Snohomish County to train 176 unemployed workers in aerospace-related certificate programs at the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center and at Everett and Edmonds community colleges.
Some of the Recovery Act stimulus funds received from the federal government two years ago went to fund training programs at WATR as well. In fact, as of July 2011, 250 unemployed workers had received training there. Of those who completed their certifications in Aerospace Manufacturing Core and Assembly Mechanic Certification, 213 received job offers, and 173 are working at Boeing or another local aerospace firm. The center is a perfect example of how collaboration can lead to jobs for our unemployed, and to skilled workers for our local businesses.
In fact, two of those graduates are now working for Dale Peinecke at Giddens Industries. The skills gap gets smaller every day.
But we can't afford to retrain every worker, and there's already a lengthy waiting list to get into WATR's programs. In the meantime, and for those who aren't interested in a career in the aerospace industry, we have other specialized assistance programs available at the WorkSource Centers.
Job clubs and networking groups help relieve the isolation people who are unemployed often feel, and provide a chance to meet peers in similar situations and develop networking and communication skills. Resume workshops teach how to tailor resumes to each job for which you apply as well as the ins and outs of today's online application systems.
There is hope, and there is help. There are jobs, and there are skilled people in our county. It's our job to match them up, and we do it every day.
Sue Ambler is CEO of the Workforce Development Council Snohomish County. Heather Villars is the WDCSC's director of communications.
Resources
Visit www.go2worksource.com to search more than 22,000 available jobs and to find the WorkSource center near you.
The Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Materials Manufacturing will host an aerospace career fair at the Lynnwood Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 23. More information is available at www.wajoce.com.

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Herald Editorial Board

Peter Jackson, Opinion Editor: pjackson@heraldnet.com (@PeterJHerald)

Carol MacPherson, Editorial Writer: cmacpherson@heraldnet.com

Neal Pattison, Executive Editor: npattison@heraldnet.com

Josh O'Connor, Publisher: joconnor@heraldnet.com

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