Service cutting back at Monett jobs office
Services at the American Job Center office in Monett will see major reductions beginning May 1. State budget cuts have triggered a turnover in most of the staff and leaves the status of the office unclear for the future.
The Missouri Career Center, which subsequently changed its name to the American Job Center, moved into the old Monett Community Center at Maple and County Road in June 2012, after the city made major renovations. Mayor Jim Orr said the city invested in changes to keep the office in the city.
According to a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, federal sequestration triggered the closings of offices run by the Division of Workforce Development. The Monett office had originally been scheduled to close.
"We understand the need to balance the federal budget," said Jason Jones, chief executive officer for the Workforce Investment Board, which oversees career centers. "It's disconcerting that politicians campaign on job creation and then cut the programs that try to do that. We're caught in the middle."
The job center office in Monett provided testing for the National Career Readiness certificates, which Jones hopes to continue in the Joplin and Springfield career centers. Exams are also offered for prospective employees at technical schools, like the Scott Regional Technology Center.
Jones said testing is expanding through community colleges. He expects exams to be available through Crowder College at its campuses in Cassville and Mt. Vernon.
The most severe impact of the service reduction will affect people seeking state services.
"Career centers are a public and private partnership," Jones said. "Local organizations get a federal grant and the state gets a grant. The state portion has been cut in five areas. They're pulling the state operation out."
The Monett office has had five state employees. Two of those five had their last day of work on April 30. One employee under contract through December has been moved to the Joplin office. Two others are expected to work through June 30, the end of the state fiscal year.
The five employees have been responsible for processing reports by unemployed people, who are required to provide updates on their job search every four weeks. According to the Monett staff, 600 people a month file reports in the Monett office and will now be required to travel to Springfield or Joplin to do so.
Staff also assist in profiling, the federally mandated Missouri Employment in Training Program, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program and other state services. Staff provided job search assistance, helped with paperwork to document job search efforts and filed the reports.
Staff reported that many job applications are now filled out online and submitted by e-mail, an unfamiliar technology for many job seekers. The Missouri Employment in Training Program also processed food stamp applications, which will not be available locally any longer. It was not yet clear if computers would remain in the office for individuals to use in their job searches.
The Monett office provided the major entry point for prospective employees at Tyson Foods in Monett. Prospective workers would first go to the career center, get referrals and have career center staff match qualifications to available positions. Job applicants would then receive a referral to take to the Tyson Foods plant.
No alternative procedure for handling prospective Tyson Foods employees had been shared by the company with the career center staffers. Funds have not been available since December 2012 to send people to school to learn additional skills to match available jobs.
"We were here to help people with no skills," said one of the staff members. "We had various programs to help people get back to work. Now we won't be able to do that."
One staff member who will remain at the office is Chris Brumett, with the Missouri Work Assistance Program. Brumett contacts families based on referrals from the Missouri Department of Family Services. Working under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, which handles food stamps, Brumett helps individuals overcome barriers such as transportation, child care and education to bring them back into the workforce.
The Monett Career Center appears to be moving toward having one career counselor working in the office after June 30, in addition to Brumett and one youth counselor, Sheila Eden, who works with the schools.
Jones said the reductions in state staff may make it more difficult for people seeking access to state services to get help even if they travel to other offices. He noted staff numbers at the Joplin office dropped by 15 people, creating longer waiting time for service.
Jones hopes to continue testing for National Career Readiness certificates once a week in Monett. He saw dropping state compliance services from career centers as a reduction in red tape for his people.
"We have the opportunity to launch other training initiatives," Jones said. "That's where we want to grow. We're losing resources, but that allows us more flexibility. We've encouraged our staff to think on doing more. We could have a better product as we grow years ahead."
Jones said the Workforce Investment Board plans to continue serving the public at the Monett office through June 2014.
The City of Monett approved a lease agreement in January 2012 for use of the community center. The Missouri Career Center opened its doors for service in June 2012. The current moves have not changed the lease agreement with the city.
"The only discussions we've had is that the Workforce Investment Board is considering extending their lease on the building but are negotiating with a tenant to sub-lease it. The Career Center operations would likely cease," said City Administrator Dennis Pyle.