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Wyoming Department of Workforce Services

Competitive pay, flexibility keys to hiring seasonal workers, say officials

in Economic development/News
2399

By Mary Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s unemployment rate is a good indicator of a healthy economy: people  are working and therefore able to buy homes, cars  — and Christmas and Hanukkah gifts. 

But according to state officials, the current unemployment rate of 3.8 percent means that employers looking to hire extra help during the holiday season may have a tough time of it. The low unemployment rate is a curse to employers, Denise Rodriguez, business representative in the Department of Workforce Services, told Cowboy State Daily.

“It’s a job-seeker’s market instead of an employer’s market right now,” she said,“(It) makes hiring overall very difficult for employers to find individuals seeking employment.”

According to Chris Brown, the executive director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Wyoming Retail Association, finding seasonal help is incredibly difficult for businesses. 

“If you were to go round on the horn and ask (members of the WLRA and WRA) what the biggest challenge is for them, nine out of ten — without a doubt — would say finding an adequate work force,” he said. 

And it’s not just a seasonal problem, he said. 

“The problem is that in Wyoming there are not enough employees available,” he said.  “It’s the least populated state in the country, so it has the least populated workforce in the country.”

Brown and DWS representatives have some advice for employers hoping to score some good workers to help with the holiday rush.

Offer competitive pay

“The more competitive pay the better,” suggested Jeff Schulz, a manager for the DWS Workforce Service Centers. “If a company is paying $12 an hour, for example, if you can pay $13 an hour, you can get them (to leave their current employer).”

According to Rodriguez, employers regularly resort to poaching staff from other employers.

“I had a 21-year-old tell me yesterday, ‘I’m thinking about looking for another job that pays more,’” Rodriguez said. “I said, ‘Don’t you think about burning bridges?’  He said, ‘I think I’ll look at getting more money.’

“(Job-seekers) can go back and forth,” she continued. “If they leave an employer and things don’t work out at the other job, they can go back and they’ll take them back.  Chances are the position still needs to be filled.”

Provide flexible hours

A lot of people looking for seasonal work already have full-time jobs, and they’re looking for a job where they can work evenings and weekends, said Ty Stockton, DWS communications manager.

Others are students who want to make some extra money over the holidays, Brown said. 

“In both the retail and hospitality industries, flexible schedules, being able to work with students and their school schedules, give them part-time hours — employers tout those things to supplement their work force,” he said.  “They need to offer (applicants) a great place to work, have fun and make money.”

Be innovative 

DWS Business Representative Terri Wells suggested that in addition to competitive salaries and flexible hours, employers be creative in their approach to attracting workers. 

“Think outside of the box,” she said. “What can you offer as an add-on?” 

“A lot of companies offer retention bonuses, so if you stay six months or so they give you a bonus,” Shulz said. “There are a variety of ways you can approach it, but the key is to make the employee as happy as they can be.”

Try a “surgical approach”

Shulz likened participating in a job fair to select the right candidate for the job to conducting precise surgery. 

“We do a mini-job fair every month,” he said.

The DWS job fairs are geared specifically for particular industries.  Employers who take part have an opportunity to grab the job-seekers most attracted and best suited for that industry. 

Check out the DWS website 

Workforce Services’ website, wyomingatwork.com, is designed to help not only job-seekers, but employers as well. They can search the system for resumes that match the kind of applicant they’re looking for and send a message to the job seeker. 

Consult a local Workforce Services Center

Employers who need more help finding seasonal workers can call or visit their local DWS center.  There are 22 centers throughout the state.

“If any employers are having difficulty filling or retaining positions and are looking for ideas, they can contact one of the local DWS centers,” Rodriguez said. 

Losing coal could cost Wyoming dearly, take decades to recalibrate labor force

in Energy/Jobs/News
coal industry labor force
2362

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s coal market has suffered devastating layoffs and mine closures in recent years, and by all accounts, the industry is shrinking. 

But, what if it dried up overnight? 

“If you were to instantly remove the coal industry, it would immediately cause job losses across the state,” said Robert Godby, the University of Wyoming director for Energy Economics and Public Policies Center and college of business associate professor. “You’re looking at about 5,000 miners directly involved in the coal industry. If you were to lose that all at once, people would feel that.”

It’s not just the miners, either. Godby said a sizable chunk of Wyoming’s labor market is reliant on coal.

“Approximately, there’s about 10,000 jobs directly or indirectly related to the coal industry — mining, electricity generation, railroads, plus all the businesses reliant on those workers’ wages,” he explained. “As coal declines in the state, we’ll have to transition those workers to other industries. And, there will not be enough jobs to absorb those workers.”

The good news, Godby said, is coal won’t disappear that quickly, but it could taper off sooner than Wyoming is prepared for. 

“In 2015, there were almost 5,600 miners in Powder River Basin, now there’s 4,400,” he said. “There are 12 mines up there that produce about 40 percent of the country’s coal. We could be below half of what we were producing in 2009 by the mid-2020s.”

High-paying careers

Data from the Department of Wyoming Workforce Services indicates once these workers lose gainful employment, many leave the state to work in the field elsewhere.

But, across the nation, there are fewer jobs for coal workers and retraining for other careers can mean starting all over.

“Those jobs pay really well,” Godby said. “It’s not only difficult to absorb and replace all those jobs, but you won’t be able to find jobs that pay nearly as well.” 

The average income for a coal industry employee is about $80,000 a year, he said. 

“The people who stay, if those jobs were to disappear, may have to do something else,” Godby said. “Many of those workers may have to accept the fact that unless they go back to school, retrain or re-skill, they won’t find jobs that pay as well.”

When a layoff occurs in any industry, Workforce Services deploys a rapid response team, agency spokesperson Ty Stockton said.

“In Wyoming, we don’t have very many businesses that have 600 employees that could get laid off,” Stockton explained. “We don’t have a real threshold for deploying the team. When Laramie County Community College (LCCC) laid off 17 employees in 2016, they went in for that.”

A team was also sent out in 2016 when about 500 workers were laid off from the North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder mines in Campbell County. More recently, Workforce Services deployed a rapid response team to Gillette when Blackjewel, LLC, abruptly laid off about 600 workers at the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in Campbell County.

“Rapid response is about giving those folks options and information,” Stockton said. “If they don’t have information, there’s nothing they can do.”

Teams can include mental health counselors, Wyoming Department of Family Services staff to help families, Wyoming Department of Health staff to help with health insurance questions and Workforce Services employees to discuss unemployment options and help laid off workers start the search for their next job, he said.

‘Generation of pain’

But all of those are stop-gap measures designed to lessen the blow to recently out-of-work families. 

In the long term, Workforce Services also provides funding for a number of vocational rehabilitation programs. 

“We’re trying to keep (the workers) here and give them some options,” Stockton said. 

The agency has access to about $2 million for retraining coal workers through the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce Economic Revitalization Grant, aka the POWER Grant.

“The only people eligible for the POWER Grant are the primary industries associated with coal-fired power plants and the coal mines,” Stockton explained. “But we also have the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and that covers everybody.” 

Additionally, Workforce Services helps fund some apprenticeship programs through grants. 

“Training an apprentice is expensive,” Stockton said. “The apprenticeship program was set up to help offset those costs, so if you need a few apprentices, you can apply for these grants and have their training paid for through the apprenticeship grant.”

About 80 trainees are currently enrolled in apprenticeship programs for electrical, plumbing and heating and cooling careers at LCCC and Northwest College, he said. 

Even with training programs already in place, Godby said recovery from the loss of an industry as big as coal would take years.

“To transition a labor force to work on anything else is going to take about at least about a decade,” he explained. “If we look at other industries like the furniture industry in the Southeast, soft wood lumber in the Pacific Northwest and the industrial decline in the Midwest, those transitions typically take a generation to overcome. That’s a generation — 20 to 30 years — of pain.”

Cody restauranteurs struggle with labor shortages

in Economic development/Jobs/News
2243

A low unemployment rate is creating some difficult situations for Cody’s restaurants.

Park County’s August unemployment rate of 3.3 percent is lower than the statewide average of 3.5 percent and the national average of 3.8 percent.

However, the low unemployment rate means there are fewer workers available, leaving businesses like Bubba’s Barbecue, owned by Brian and Denise Wiegand, without enough staff to remain open seven days a week. The Wiegands said for the first time in eight years, they have had to close their restaurant one day a week.

“Every week it seems like there’s another business opening in Cody, diminishing the labor pool even more,” Brian Wiegand said. “This has been the first winter, however, where it has really hit us, this shortage of labor in Cody.”

The problem is similar at the Proud Cut Saloon, owned for more than 30 years by Becky and Del Nose. 

Becky Nose said because of unreliable workers, she often does not know if she can open for a day of business.

“They text you at 4 in the morning and say ‘I’m not coming in’ or they randomly text you through the night and tell you they don’t like this or that and so they just don’t show up,” she said. “Or they just don’t show up at all. So every day, you’re actually standing in the doorway in the mornings, hoping you have enough people to open your business for that day.”

Lacking sufficient staff, Cassie’s Supper Club was forced to eliminate its lunch service this year, said Melody Singer, who has owned and operated the business for 25 years with her husband Steve.

“It’s so hard to keep a full staff at lunchtime and keep a staff at dinner time,” she said. “Dinner for us is a better choice, we’re a steakhouse. So we did away with the lunch service.”

Donna Lester, manager of the Cody office of the state Department of Workforce Services, said she understands the frustrations of the restauranteurs.

“You have people coming in here every day saying they don’t have jobs, they don’t have enough money to pay the bills or to put food on the table,” she said. “And then we don’t see them at our job fairs. There’s a distinction between what people say they want to do and what they’re actually willing to do.”

The restaurant owners agreed they would take the necessary steps to stay in operation despite the labor shortage.

“We’re trying to get labor hired so that we can get back open seven days a week, but if we can’t, we’ll keep closed one day a week, maybe two days a week,” said Denise Wiegand of Bubba’s Barbecue. “Because we know we’ll get the labor come the summertime.”

Blackjewel closures bad, but not the worst, officials say

in Energy/News
Gillette Wyoming coal
1709

By James Chilton, Cowboy State Daily

GILLETTE – It’s been nearly a month since Blackjewel LLC abruptly shuttered its coal production operations, locking some 600 Gillette-area miners out of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines. And as Blackjewel continues to hammer out its fate in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Gillette searches for silver linings to this latest economic cumulonimbus.

For as threatening as the Blackjewel storm cloud may be, the city has seen worse; and not all that long ago, either. Mayor Louise Carter-King said that during the Peabody Energy and Arch Coal bankruptcy proceedings in 2016, oil and natural gas prices were also bottoming out, leaving displaced energy sector workers with few places to turn locally for employment.

“Three years ago oil was down, natural gas was down, coal was down. It was like a perfect storm and it hit us very hard,” Carter-King said. “This time it was more due to (Blackjewel’s) mismanagement rather than the underlying economy, because both of these mines were profitable.”

While she expects the mine layoffs to have a ripple effect on the city’s sales tax revenues, it will be some time before that impact is seen because state remittance of sales taxes are backdated by two months. But Carter-King said she doesn’t expect any impact to be especially long-lived this time around, thanks to a stronger job market that’s provided fall-back opportunities for those who can’t afford to wait for the mines to reopen.

“I know some employees are holding out for that, but those who can get jobs that are equal or better are jumping ship,” she said. “The good news is, a lot of people have been able to find jobs.”

Rick Mansheim with the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services said the DWS Employment and Training office in Gillette took immediate steps to get information out about resources available to the displaced miners, as well as to address some of their most urgent economic questions. In addition, DWS called upon its community and statewide partners to swiftly assemble a job fair that brought in employers from across Wyoming and the Mountain West.

“Five days after the (mine) closings, we had a big job fair at Gillette College where we had 40 employers, not just local, but from Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Montana,” Mansheim said. “They saw over 450 people in one day; and I know a good percentage of people were actually offered jobs that day. So if there’s a bright side at all to this layoff or whatever you want to term it, it’s the fact there were jobs available and a lot of these people were able to find employment relatively quickly.”

For the rest, Mansheim said DWS has been helping walk people through applying for unemployment benefits and ensuring they know how to maintain their health insurance coverage.

“A lot of these people have never gone through something like this, so we’re helping them understand the unemployment process – because it is a process, it’s not something where you just come in, type in your name and that’s it,” Mansheim said. “We’ll probably do another job fair if we hear something about whether the mines are going to be bringing people back or not, and we keep in contact with the city and the county to make sure we’re on the same page.”

City Communications Manager Geno Palazzari said Gillette has also been working with nonprofits and social service agencies to marshal assistance in the aftermath of the mine closures. One of the first calls, he said, was to the Food Bank of the Rockies to enlist the aid of that group’s mobile food pantry, which will set up at Family Life Church, 480 S. Highway 50, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. July 29 and Aug. 19.

“They’re already mobilizing to get trucks up here,” Palazzari said. “We’ve also reached out to some of the social service agencies in the community we fund … to make sure they didn’t need an advance on the funding we provide them to make sure they can make it through these times.”

While Blackjewel has been an important contributor to the city’s tax revenue base, Palazzari and Carter-King said they don’t expect these latest closures to impact city services. That’s mainly because the city has been extremely conservative with its spending since the 2016 downturn, when it had to cut nearly four dozen positions and $60 million out of its budget.

“Those were tough days. We had to lay off people and we looked at everything with a microscope,” Carter-King said. “Three years ago woke us up and taught us that we’ve got to be prepared for things like this.”

Prior to 2016, the city had enough cash in reserve to keep things running for 90 days without any new revenues. In 2016, the city council voted to increase that to 120 days, and then to 150 days in September 2018.

“There’s approximately $14 million (of operating reserves) budgeted for Fiscal Year 2020,” Carter-King said. “Now, if not another dime came into this city, we could make it 150 days.”

Public sector tries new approach to solutions for private industries

in Economic development/News/Education
Wyoming Next Gen partnership workforce
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Few kids see the construction trades as a potential career choice these days, but a new partnership between Wyoming’s public and private sectors is working to change that.

“The Next Gen Sector Partnership is an opportunity to bring industries’ priorities to the center stage,” said Hayley McKee, a Wyoming Department of Workforce Services spokesperson.  “It’s an opportunity for these teams to work together in an aligned approach rather than a siloed approach.”

Initiated in spring 2018, the partnership was designed to position industry professionals as the leaders in economic growth, with the public sector following their lead. 

“In the end, it’s about creating good jobs,” McKee said. “And connecting people with good jobs.”

In Laramie County, Next Gen has already experienced a measure of success, she said.

Larry Fodor, a project manager for the Cheyenne-based Mechanical Systems Inc., said he is working with the partnership to highlight the benefits of in the trades.

“We hope to improve the image and perception of the construction industry,” Fodor said. “The construction industry, in general, is not the dirty, unsafe industry it used to be.” 

Fodor and Next Gen have worked with Laramie County School District No. 1 to coordinate a bus tour for school counselors and staff, visiting several construction businesses around Cheyenne, he said. The initiative can help school district staff and students learn about a variety of construction-based career opportunities, providing details on wages, benefits packages and training options.

“It’s allowed us to show a side-by-side comparison of what a graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns right out of college vs. a journeyman, who’s spent a similar amount of time learning his trade while getting paid,” Fodor explained. “We’ve seen a strong response to the Next Gen approach.”

After working construction in Laramie County for more than a decade, he said the partnership is a refreshing approach to recurring challenges.

“Next Gen as a whole is a new way of looking at solving old problems,” Fodor said. “These problems have been talked about for years without any meaningful way of getting together and moving toward a goal.”

McKee said Next Gen allows entities such as the Wyoming Workforce Development Council, Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming Department of Education and Workforce Services to use data to identify challenges in regions across Wyoming, then approach industry leaders in those regions with an invitation to help develop a solution.

“In Laramie county, they selected trades as their area to focus on,” she explained. “But in other regions, they have looked at finance, healthcare and hospitality to name just a few.”

Still in its infancy, Next Gen could help develop struggling economic sectors, stabilizing Wyoming’s boom-bust cycle while reducing the number of young professionals leaving the state in search of jobs, McKee said.

“It’s not necessarily just challenges, but often the partnership is working to build opportunities as well,” she said. “These initiatives are just starting, and they have selected focus areas, but later on down the line, there are other industries that are prime for partnership.”

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