Annette Hayden firstname.lastname@example.org
Montana Workforce Services Division announced today it is restructuring to be a more efficient partner in economic growth for Montana's future. The new WSD (which oversees Job Service) will enhance its focus on business and agriculture trends, and workforce education to affect a stronger economy tomorrow. Today, however, 14 Job Service office managers are facing some tough decisions since their positions are being eliminated in pursuit of the greater good. "About a year ago, Montana applied for and received federal dollars from the WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) grant funded by the U.S. Department of Labor," said Ingrid Childress, administrator for the Workforce Services Division/DLI in Helena. "Montana received one of the 13 grants approved in that first round," she said. "It allows us seed money to build partnerships, to get new businesses up and running and get workers trained in these different fields. Our new focus encompasses business, workers and students. With the WIRED grant, Gov. Schwietzer identified 32 counties in central and eastern Montana that were in the most need of economic transformation, according to Childress. "The opportunity for bio-products and energy development helped direct the use of the grant," she said. "For instance MSU-N, with the diesel program and testing on diesel engines and products, is part of the new concept. In Malta they are building bio-lubricants, like a WD-40 from grains — oil seeds. A lot of oils we cook with can also be used for other oil-based products. We are now encouraging farmers to shift some of their crops into oil seeds. That brings an opportunity for new businesses to do the the pressing to capture the oils and for another business to make lubricants. The remainder of the canella (rape) seed can be used as cattle feed. It really is a miracle agri-crop that can be used fully. "If you develop that economy, you then have a need for welders and truck drivers and you begin to grow in other industries," she added. Over the past year since the WIRED grant was received, the Workforce Services Division has studied issues such as, what are Montana's different economies. "Because the regions of the state are as different economically as they are geograpically," Childress said. "In the western portion there is a lot of activity, but in the eastern regions the population and opportunities have been decreasing. We want to be more effective, despite the fact that our funding is not increasing. We need to find and implement efficiencies. We have been looking at how we can expand our outreach and improve on our services for the last year and it recently came together, which is the purpose behind the restructuring." The news of Workforce Services' restructuring hit home in Havre on Wednesday when Childress met with the 14 managers overseeing 24 community Job Service locations throughout the state. "We held a meeting with all the managers, and the assistant managers in the six largest locations, to outline our proposed upper management re-organization," Childress said. "Because we want to expand our focus beyond just the very local community level. We need to continue to focus on our communities, but we also have a number of individuals and businesses outside those hub-areas and we want to increase access to our services across the state." The expanded focus includes the creation of five Workforce Services' regions in the state, which will be overseen by five regional managers, all new positions. "We are basically creating five regions, which match up with the five economic development regions across the state, so we can better align our efforts with education and economic development," Childress said. Childress presented current managers a "vision and expectations" hand out outlining the new focus for the five new regional managers. She also gave the news that the managers' positions would be discontinued. "That is because a large portion of what has previously been managers' duties will now be handled by the regional managers and the other duties by supervisors," Childress said. "Each of the current managers, will either have an opportunity to apply for one of the five regional manager positions which will pay more because of increased responsibility, or they can take advantage of their retirement with an incentive increase. The other option for managers, is they can stay on with their offices and continue to serve their communities as supervisors, but at the lower pay rate." Childress said she expected some of the current office managers would chose to retire, "because under the Montana State Empoyee Protection Act they can be provided a little bump to their retirement." Those who don't retire can apply for one of the five positions at the higher pay scale. "There is rightful concern on the part of the managers," said Childress, "because there will be competition for the five postions. In those new positions, the managers chosen will need to be creative and energetic." The in-house job postings for the five new regional positions opened Thursday and is expected to be a quick turn-around with decisions made by the end of the month. Current managers and assistant managers have opportunity to apply for the positions within 10 days. Applications will be reviewed and interviews made and scored, before May 25. Once those positions are filled and other managers opt for the early retirement, Childress said she will look at filling the supervisory positions. Childress emphasized that the restructuring is not a cost-savings measure. "But our funding at the federal level has been reduced for the last few years and in the mean time we are striving toward a better future," she said. "We have to look at how we can be more efficient. The average age of our employees is 47-48 and, honestly, we are hoping over the coming years that we can manage a reduction through attrition. Finances is something we always have to face, because we are publicly funded. But there is not any intent now to reduce staff. That is not our goal. Right now we are seeking to be effective and efficient across the state." Several local individuals voiced concern at statements presented Wednesday within the "vision and expectations" handout, such as "Remove yourself from a local perspective and transition to a regional and state perspective," and "Focus on industry and clusters of businesses rather than on individual businesses." Childress said these will be among the project initiatives for the five new regional managers, however supervisors and their staffs will continue to focus on each community. "The new five regional managers are going to be asked to work together toward with a broader focus toward developing more communication with our educational and economic development partners. Along with this all new regional managers and supervisors will be receiving training, because with the new focus we want them to have more effective skills to be able to move toward our future." The training is considered "Pase two" of the re-organization, along with more analysis. "In phase two we will be analyzing where our work is, where the jobs are , where aour job-seekers are. We will have more flexibility when a need is demonstrated by real data, to move our resources from one area to another to meet the need, and then move them back when necessary. "One of the biggest concerns we have heard from surveys of businesses, is a need for a skilled work force, she added. "We want to work with our education facilities and businesses so we collaborartively build a pipeline workforce that will not only fill vacancies today, but can do the jobs coming down the road in the next two, five and ten years. In partnership, we can anticipate the kind of skills workers will need. We can begin working with colleges like MSU-Northern, the tribal colleges and secondary schools to help develop the necessary skills and talents that will support economic development and strengthen Montana's future."