#PowerofaJob: Justice-involved job seeker reboots career through WorkSource

As partners in Washington state’s WorkSource system and the American Job Center Network, the Employment Security Department helps people – unemployed or not – find new jobs and learn new skills. We help them experience the life-changing Power of a Job.

Every week, we spotlight a different Power of a Job success story. This week, we bring you Steven Buegler, a justice-involved job seeker from Longview. Steven utilized resources provided by WorkSource Cowlitz-Wahkiakum to re-launch his truck-driving career.

Take a few minutes to be inspired and watch Steven tell his re-employment journey!

My name is Steven Buegler, and I’ve been working with WorkSource for a little over a year now, maybe closer to a year and a half. I ended up in work release in Longview in January of 2017, and was required to come up here (WorkSource Cowlitz-Wahkiakum) on a daily basis to hunt for jobs.

I did a lot of time in prison, and am pretty computer illiterate, so it was a real challenge for me to learn what I could, but the people here at WorkSource were really, really helpful. Megan in particular. She would come in and show me how to do things on the computer.

As it worked out, I kind of went off on my own and rode my bicycle around, walked around Longview trying to interview for jobs, not online. But I still came up here every day and went on the various sites, and over a period of time I found a couple jobs, a fish-washing job and a production job at a fish plant down in Woodland. I worked at both of those for about 5 months each, but I was dissatisfied.

I came out of prison with very few marketable job-skills, so I ended up getting some low-paying jobs that had co-workers that I didn’t particularly get along with. I’m a fairly hard worker, so after a period of time I abandoned both of those jobs and pretty much quit working. I had some money I brought with me out of the joint, and some social security retirement benefits that kept me going.

I was a truck driver when I was on the street before, and somebody where I live told me that they received funding for CDL (Commercial Drivers License) class through WorkSource, so I came back up here and talked to Marie. She said “Yeah, I think we can help you!”

She introduced me to a couple other [WorkSource staff members], and I went through some workshops with Sarah. Laura Vickers took over my case and got me through the WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) program. She told me what I needed to do to qualify for funding.

So, I went through that, wrote my statements, was accepted into the program and funded for the CDL program at Lower Columbia Community College. I attended class for six or seven weeks and graduated. My prior experience as a truck driver helped me to get through that program fairly easily. I took my tests, achieved my CDL license, interviewed at a company that one of my instructors at Lower Columbia Community College worked for and hired.

I’ve been there for a couple of weeks now, doing on-the-job training (OJT) and today is my last day of OJT. Monday I will go out on my own. It seems like a nice company to work for and I am happy about the results. I am grateful to WorkSource for giving me this opportunity and optimistic about my future.

If you’re in the same boat, this would be the place to come If you’re looking for a serious opportunity. If you’re serious. Because it takes some work on your part too, it’s not just some giveaway.

As a partner in Washington’s WorkSource system and the American Job Center Network, the Employment Security Department helps people – unemployed or not – find new jobs and learn new skills. We help them experience the life-changing Power of a Job.  We also work with businesses, which are Powered by Jobs, to help them find employees.

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Great Service Doesn’t Often Make Headlines

by Employment Security Department Commissioner, Suzi LeVine

Now that the partial government shutdown and the threat of another one are finally over, I’d like to reflect on the exceptional customer service and agility demonstrated during this period by the team I am profoundly blessed to lead at the Employment Security Department.

I started at Employment Security in July. Having worked in both the private and public sectors before this, I came to the job knowing that people choosing this line of work are motivated by doing good and helping people. Their compensation packages contain no stock options.

The crucible of this partial shutdown, however, has shown me that, not only do they care about the people and businesses we serve, but they also demonstrate a resilience, creativity, thoughtfulness, and level of compassion beyond any of my expectations for customer service – especially under urgent conditions. This level of extraordinary service spans from line level to leadership.

I will be the first one (and I often am) to call out concerns when our customer service is not as it should be – and we are far from perfect. In fact, we improve and innovate only when we have freedom to learn from our failures and our fallibility. Over the past few years, some of those failures have come out in the most public of venues with TV and radio consumer watchdogs reporting on our work. And our teams have hunkered down and gotten better.

But what you don’t usually hear about publicly are the customer service calls that DON’T come in. News stations don’t usually cover when our teams are so good and competent that they proactively address people’s needs and no one knows about it. The media don’t hear about when we work for days and hours to tackle complexities and roadblocks so that the customer has a seamless and uneventful experience. “Uneventful” and “No Issues” don’t make very scintillating headlines.

In the case of this partial shutdown, let me tell you – the complexities, the shifts, the non-standard situations, and the hour-by-hour questions made “Uneventful” and “No Issues” a doggone miracle!

I want to share just three examples. Now, again, I’m not asserting that we didn’t have hiccups. Also – there are always moments when customers don’t get exactly what they want because of legal boundaries to our system. But these stories exemplify how ESD employees did everything in their power to support their fellow public servants in a very trying time.

Wage verification
When a person applies for unemployment benefits, one of the first steps is for ESD to verify that the claimant’s reported wages match what their employer reports. Only then can ESD determine if, how much, and how long to provide benefits. With the partial shutdown, the employers (federal agencies) were shut down and not available to verify wages. Within one day, ESD formed a special team to manually verify wages with paystubs and W-2s. The team also was able to get checks into furloughed federal workers’ hands within the standard time, despite the extra care needed for these claims. All of this happened with little impact to overall response time in the unemployment call centers.

Standby renewal
For both furloughed workers, and eventually, the “essential” full-time federal workers, ESD used a tool in state unemployment law called “standby.” A worker in standby status can receive benefits without having to search for work if they have a promise from their employer to return to a job. After four weeks, a standby claim must be renewed by both employee and employer, and the employer needs to re-certify that they are still planning to bring that person back to work.

Knowing that the shutdown persisted and recognizing that employers might not be able to respond after four weeks because they were still closed, ESD proactively extended standby for over 1,500 claims from furloughed workers. That way, without effort (or even awareness) on the part of the federal furloughed employees, no gap in benefits occurred. ESD’s work resulted in many customer calls we DIDN’T get! The entire agency pitched in.

Because the call center team was on high alert receiving new claims from federal workers on the day when they needed to be renewed, ESD’s policy team did all the standby extensions manually, all while continuing to guide operational staff managing an extraordinarily unique situation. I even joined the effort and made the extensions on a couple of the claims. I’m proud to say that Paul and Raul (I’ll keep their last names confidential) were able to continue receiving their benefits.

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Suzi and Joy Adams from Employment System Policy manually renewing standby status for furloughed federal workers.

Changing denials to approvals
Over the past month, almost five dozen “excepted” or “essential” workers applied for benefits but, sadly, were denied according to unemployment law. With his announcement on Jan. 24, Gov. Inslee authorized extending benefits to those “excepted” workers. The ESD team then proactively called all those who had been denied and restarted their claims.

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Gov. Inslee and Commissioner LeVine at the January 24th announcement.

The good news is that all the affected federal workers have received (or soon will receive) their back pay and ESD won’t need to receive or process claims for them. However, ESD staff is now contacting those who have received benefits and back pay and setting up plans to pay us back the benefits they received. Unemployment insurance law states that any worker who receives back pay after receiving unemployment benefits must repay benefits received.

We realize, however, that the repayment might not be easy nor immediate for many. In a final and bonus example of exceptional service, our team is prepared to work with each person individually on their repayment plans to make repayment as painless as possible. Here’s how!

The ESD team has been helping — and will keep helping — these federal workers. Some may say, “Well, they’re just doing their jobs!” That’s true. But I hope these examples help you see how ESD’s public servants, when put to a very challenging test, “just did their jobs” with thoughtfulness and compassion, and without any fanfare or headlines.

#PowerOfAJob: AmeriCorps experience pays off downstream with a dream job

It’s Workforce Wednesday, when we spotlight Power of a Job success stories.

This week, we bring you former Washington Service Corps member Emily Watts, who joined the program after college. The Service Corps is part of the federal AmeriCorps community service program and is administered by the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Annually, the Washington Service Corps accepts more than 700 members, who fill unmet community needs in the areas of disaster preparedness; economic opportunity; education; environmental stewardship; healthy futures; and veterans and military families.

Emily’s experience as a member exposed her to new roles and ideas that led her to a job she loves. The Washington Service Corps helps communities and simultaneously creates a service-to-work pipeline around the state.

Here is Emily’s story:

I’m a water resources specialist with the City of Lacey in the public works department. I’ve been here almost two years now.

Going back a little bit, after graduating high school, I knew that I wanted to get a degree, but was not sure exactly in what. I decided to go to school locally at the Evergreen State College. It was not until my junior or senior year that I got into ecological economics. That’s when I knew I wanted to study this cross connection between natural resources, local policy and business.

However, I didn’t know how to get a job in that field or what kind of work went into that. I started looking for internships and part-time jobs and stumbled across AmeriCorps, which had many opportunities in the South Sound near my family. I ended up with a job with the City of Tacoma.

As an AmeriCorps member, I served as their active transportation and sustainability specialist and got to work with many large departments, such as Tacoma Power and Water. My job was to do outreach throughout the diverse communities in Tacoma, which garnered my interest in outreach. I knew I liked economics. I loved natural resources. Now I learned that I love communications and outreach, too. By putting these things together and reserving a table at the Tacoma farmer’s markets, I helped plan the Sustainability Expo and gained another skill — civil service —that I had not been interested in before. I just knew that I liked working for local city government.

After 10 months, I still wanted to work for city government in the Tacoma area. I found the Metropolitan Parks District of Tacoma. It’s like the city of Tacoma’s Parks and Recreation Department, but its own individual entity. Because I had city government experience with Tacoma, Metro Parks was very interested in me for their sustainability assistant position. It was part-time, but I applied anyway. Because I knew about Tacoma water, Tacoma power and outreach, they hired me.

My new job was similar to my role as an AmeriCorps member. I worked at the zoo doing outreach, tracking energy, water services and utilities. These activities crossed into public service, about which I was passionate. After about eight months at Metro parks, I started searching for a full-time position and found an opening with the City of Lacey as a full-time water resources specialist.

My AmeriCorps role provided experience with a utility and I gained more with Metro Parks. The Lacey job was all about communications and outreach, and I had answered so many public questions, that it was a great fit. The City of Lacey is a small tight-knit community, so I would get more hands-on experience doing volunteer activities. I got the position and have been with them now for about two years. All of this is building upon my previous experience as an AmeriCorps member.

I work with the water utility and wastewater now, answering public questions, doing rebates and holding public events. All my previous experience led to this position.

I would say to anyone who is looking for job experience, or not really sure what they want to do, look for service positions and apply for AmeriCorps. I got direct job experience right out of school with no experience, and it led to a full-time job.

To learn more about the Washington Service Corps and AmeriCorps, visit the Service Corps website.

The Employment Security Department is a partner in Washington’s WorkSource system and the American Job Center Network, which helps people – unemployed or not – find new jobs and learn new skills. We help them experience the life-changing Power of a Job. We also work with businesses, which are Powered by Jobs, to help them find employees.

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