WorkSource Walla Walla matchmaker for job seekers, employers

The free service works to connect area businesses with qualified workers, which is often an emotional task in the current economy.

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Job seekers fill computer work stations and tables scouring information at the WorkSource of Walla Walla offices. Wednesday, November 17, 2010 MZ Photo

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Worksource Specialist Diana Smith leads an applications workshop for a group of people seeking jobs at the Worksource offices on the corner of Stevens Street and West Tietan Street. Wednesday, November 17, 2010 MZ Photo

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After stepping outside for a portrait, WorkSource area director Jennie Weber looks over her shoulder as she opens the door to the offices where people hiring can be matched with people seeking jobs. Wednesday, November 17, 2010 MZ Photo

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Job seekers make use of public computers and racks of information relating to unemployment and finding a job at the WorkSource of Walla Walla offices. Wednesday, November 17, 2010 MZ Photo

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Marquee job boarding flashing available jobs behind her, WorkSource area director Jennie Weber poses for a portrait outside the offices at the corner of South Stevens Street and West Tietan Street. Thursday, November 17, 2010 MZ Photo

For those out of work, focus on the positive; there are options.

And WorkSource Walla Walla can help you find the job you want and companies hire the right employee.

"It's changed from being thought of as the 'unemployment' office where people stood in long lines waiting to file a claim," said Bill Tarrow, Deputy Communications Director with the Employment Security Department. "Now that's done on the phone or Internet. These are career centers now with a whole different emphasis."

According to Tarrow and WorkSource Area Director Jennie Weber, the organization has two customers: businesses who hire employees and workers seeking employment.

WorkSource matches them.

It provides many options for both types of customers, including connecting skilled workers with companies looking to hire and helping potential employees upgrade their skills to make them a better fit with available jobs.

Today's WorkSource facility is the result of changes in the 1990s to consolidate services and get all the providers in one location, Tarrow said.

The combination made the office "one-stop shopping" for both job seekers and employers. Having the free services all at one location helps cut down on stress, especially for the already-stressed out job-seekers.

"We have a host of services to offer, both for businesses and workers," Weber said.

From the job-seeker's side, the staff will first ascertain what they want and need with a basic assessment and skills review.

The skills needed for today's workplace have changed so drastically from what they used to be, Weber said.

Today's employers are looking for computer skills, customer service skills and adaptability to the work environment.

Some of the individuals utilizing the service center are unemployed.

Others are employed, but looking for something better.

They may have been laid off and now are under-employed, at a wage or reduction in hours so they can't maintain the standard of living they had with their previous job.

"In this economy, they are doing what they need to do to make ends meet," Tarrow said.

After the initial assessment, there are a variety of free services that can help with a job search. These include training on resum?© construction, posting your resume online, finding job openings, setting goals and preparing for an interview.

WorkSource has a resource room for job seekers that has telephones, a copy machine, computers with Internet access and more tools to assist.

WorkSource also has a Job Hunter workshop series on a variety of topics.

The opportunity to connect a diverse group of job seekers can help inspire clients who meet others in the same situation and they can get ideas and inspiration, said Doug Loney, operations manager.

Candidates seeking work include individuals of all ages, career backgrounds and skill sets, from entry-level to highly skilled workers.

But the workplace has changed rapidly in recent years and many skills now are obsolete.

"They can get skilled-up for something new," Tarrow said.

Each individual is different, with his or her own set of skills, talents and needs. WorkSource staff assists them in finding out who they are and what role they want in a new career and workplace.

Many community partnerships enable WorkSource Walla Walla to provide employment and training needs for both employers and workers, according to Weber. These partnerships include the Employment Security Department, Blue Mountain Action Council, Walla Walla Community College, vocational rehabilitation, DSHS and AARP.

According to Weber, in the year from July 2009 through June 2010, the office saw more than 7,500 job-seeking customers.

In that time frame, there were 1,950 job openings, which was fewer than five years ago but a little better than the prior year.

"Our challenges are the long-term unemployment, those that have exceeded 50 weeks unemployed," she said.

With people exhausting the extensions on unemployment claims and the job market still tight, emotional consequences are everywhere.

"We have yet to see the long term effects on people. We haven't seen this kind of duration of unemployment," Weber said.

However, she is optimistic this will pass and there will be more employment in the future.

Winter is a busier season for WorkSource.

"There is a seasonality to it," she said. "In certain occupations, such as agriculture and construction this time of year there's a reduction of force. Then there's some holiday hiring."

After that there's a contraction again, then an increase with the hiring of tax preparers in late winter.

According to Weber, what everyone is watching closely right now is the outcome of the city and county budget discussions. She is confident that things will get better and she's impressed with how many workers have come in to the office to upscale their skills. With the speed of today's workplace technology, staying current is a challenge.

Employers also come to WorkSource for help.

Many don't realize the huge role WorkSource has connecting with area businesses, Tarrow said.

"It's been very successful," Weber added. "We have many return customers."

WorkSource has been successful because it has provided qualified candidates for the businesses wanting to hire.

According to Tarrow, through the businesses' tax dollars with WorkSource services, they have access to the equivalent of their own human resources department. WorkSource can save hiring businesses money and time in the hiring process: recruitment, screening and looking for the skills they require for a desired employee.

WorkSource has a relationship with 59 percent of businesses that have hired in Walla Walla and Columbia counties, Weber said.

In general, employers are contacted to list jobs and to assist them in planning, preparing and setting an accurate wage for the position that's open.

WorkSource also uses testing as a screening instrument, to pre-screen skills for the prospective employer.

"There's a great number of very qualified job seekers right now," said Tarrow. "There may be hundreds of applications for a job. There's a bigger base than we've had in the past."

With so many talented individuals looking for work, Work Source can save a business time by narrowing the pool down to manageable numbers, so they can interview the five top people, instead of hundreds.

Tarrow mentioned a 2009 study to evaluate the effectiveness of the WorkSource system, indicated that people who utilize WorkSource programs have much better results in their job search, end up employed sooner and at a higher wage level than those who didn't utilize the services.

"In a nutshell, unemployment insurance claimants who use WorkSource services return to work quicker and make more than those who didn't use the services," he said. "It's a great resource for workers and businesses. We've also partnered with Microsoft, to provide free Microsoft training for their office programs."

All of these opportunities come at no cost to the job seeker or the hiring business.

In any economy, that's a great deal.

More information

WorkSource Walla Walla is located at 1530 Stevens, off Tietan in Walla Walla, 509-527-4393.

To file a claim for unemployment benefits, call the telecenter 1-800-318-6022. More information can be found at esd.wa.gov.

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