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.

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Washington extends unemployment safety net to federal workers working full- or part-time without pay

Governor Jay Inslee and Commissioner Suzi LeVine today announced an emergency rule allowing federal workers working without pay to receive unemployment benefits.

Workers can learn how to apply here: https://esd.wa.gov/unemployment-benefits-related-to-partial-federal-shutdown#NEW

The Employment Security Department has posted data about the estimated number of workers impacted by county, including estimates of lost wages by week.

The agency also has data from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies showing the estimated number of employees by affected federal agency in Washington.

Watch the media availability.img_e4103[1]

Customer graduates from college and starts new career at age 42

It’s Workforce Wednesday, when we tell Power of a Job success stories. This week, we bring you Carolyn Wiggen, who works for Employment Security — a partner in the WorkSource system.

I’m a web application developer at Employment Security. About four years ago, I found myself going through a divorce. I lost the business I was helping to run and build. I lost every financial source I had and I lost my home. I had two children to support and didn’t know what I was going to do.

I immediately got on every assistance program I could while looking for a job. I hadn’t had a job for years because all I was doing was working at our business. Without a job, I went, “Oh no! What am I going to do?”

While looking for a job, I was on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) because I had children and needed to get back to work. TANF told me I had to go to WorkSource. There, I met with a lovely woman while doing check-ins every day. It didn’t take me long to start looking at all the different programs and options available to me.

One of my girlfriends already had suggested going back to college. My previous career was just not going to sufficiently support me and two children. It just wasn’t going to do it. I knew I had to make a change.

One of the things available to me was college.  If I was enrolled, I’d still qualify for different assistance programs. Sounded good to me! I always had been drawn toward websites and design, but I didn’t have the knowledge and experience to get a job doing that. Computer programming was one of the qualifying programs, so I started my college career while still working with WorkSource to meet the requirements to stay on the program.

It was the best thing that could ever have happened to me. I graduated from college, which I had never done before. Forty-two years old and I graduated from college! That’s crazy! Who would have thought?

I ended up getting a job at Employment Security, where the WorkSource program is. I started as an [information technology specialist]1, and I just became an IT3. I couldn’t be happier!

It was a struggle. My kids were very patient, very understanding and supportive. I have an 18-year-old daughter, and while it was tough to go through all the things I did, I think it really set a great example for her. I see her starting college this year and it means just a little bit more because she got to see her mom go through the same thing. She knows the importance of bettering yourself and taking advantage of these wonderful programs out there. And she’ll know what it feels like to do something awesome and be able to say: “Hey, look! I did that!” I hope that someday my youngest daughter will be able to see the value in all of that, as well.

And if there’s anybody out there like me in a similar situation, I hope they can see the value in these programs and think: “I can do that, too. It’s achievable. I can do anything I set my mind to do! There’s this wonderful program out there that’s going to help me do it!”

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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Teamwork: Three WorkSource staff connect a veteran to housing, food and finally – a job

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

This week, three WorkSource staff demonstrate the value of collaboration. WorkSource is a partnership of state, local and non-profit agencies that work together — often in the same buildings — to deliver employment and training services to Washington businesses and job seekers. Debi Keyser, Jarred Rendon and Luis Torres all work at WorkSource Central Basin in Moses Lake. They relied on each other to help a customer find temporary housing and food for his family. They then assessed his skills and connected him to a great job.

In this story, but not in all, the customer is a military veteran. WorkSource places about 10,000 veterans into jobs each year.

Debi: Hi, I’m Debi Keyser with WorkSource Central Basin here in Moses Lake, Washington. I’m a WorkFirst [Washington’s temporary cash assistance program] job coach.

Jarred: Hello, my name is Jarred Rendon. I’m a case manager for Support & Services for Veterans and Families (SSVF) at HopeSource, working in Grant and Adams counties.

Luis: Hi, my name is Luis Torres. I’m a veterans employment representative for WorkSource Central Basin. Today, for Power of a Job, we’d like to feature a veteran family we supported here at WorkSource.

One of the great things about this story is that involved multiple case managers working on behalf of this family. It showcases one of many successes that happen throughout our state. Hundreds of people come through our office doors needing assistance, and we provide that assistance. Most of these stories go untold, but here is one of them. Jared will kick off the story.

Jarred: The veteran family contacted me looking for services. The first thing we did was to identify barriers they had. The first barrier identified was transportation. Their vehicle was in need of some repairs and the tires were worn. The SSVF program was able to provide funds to get their vehicle repaired.

We also identified that they were homeless, living in their car with an infant. We connected them with a community partner: the Housing Authority of Grant County, which immediately provided transitional housing. The family was without income, so we connected them with WorkSource for employment services.

Luis: That’s how I met the family. I contacted them to set up an appointment. The father came in, and one of the first things we did was create a resume. We made sure we highlighted all his skills and abilities; we included all the things he learned in the military that translate to civilian job skills.

We created a WorkSourceWA.com account and uploaded his resume so that he could immediately start looking for jobs. One of the other great things WorkSource does is connect customers with a network of employers. We started sending off his resume (with his consent) to try to get him interviews. He had many gaps in his job history, so having a good solid resume was crucial. We referred him to WorkFirst.

Debi: The father was referred to me through the Department of Social & Health Services. I was working with him in the lobby of the Central Basin WorkSource center, when an employer walked in looking for somebody to install windows — a glazier position. I introduced the customer to the employer, who set up an interview. He was hired on the spot and started the next day. I was able to help him get gas for his vehicle and clothes for the job.

As Luis was saying, at WorkSource we offer a variety of services. All three of us worked with one individual and helped him to be a successful employee. He’s doing really well.

Jarred:  The client came in homeless, with many barriers to employment, and with our assistance started his job making $15 an hour and he’s now making over $20 an hour. So he’s providing for himself, his family and contributing to the community.  He is very, very happy.

Luis: That’s what we do at WorkSource! You have a whole team that works for you, making sure we do everything we can to help you be successful. WorkSource does work!

 Debi: Yes, it does!

As partners 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 to help them find employees because we know they are Powered by Jobs.

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#Powerofajob: Truck driver finds road to a great new career

Happy Workforce Wednesday!

As partners 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.

Every week, we spotlight a different Power of a Job success story. This week, we bring you Shelby Meyenburg, an AmeriCorps technology and resource navigator at WorkSource Thurston. Here Shelby shares how he and the WorkSource team helped an unemployed truck driver on the road to a great new job!

My client is a skilled truck driver in search of a new job. While he had all the skills and abilities to be a truck driver, he told me he really wanted a job where he could spend more time with his wife and grandchild.

So we took a look at other job types, and he saw a position at the mattress company where his daughter works. He expressed interest in a sales representative position there. As he talked about it more, he got kind of a twinkle in his eye, so I persuaded him to apply and see where it would take him.

The WorkSource team worked to get his resume ready, practiced with mock-interviews and prepped him until he was ready to go.

We didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks. Then one day, I came back from lunch and saw him in the main lobby of WorkSource. I asked how he was doing and if he worked for the mattress company.

Come to find out, he’s more than working; he’s successful! The mattress company had recently had a big sale, and he was the number-one salesperson! I’m impressed, but more importantly, his employer is really impressed. Everything looks really good for him.

I love my role as a technology navigator with AmeriCorps! I answer all kinds of questions from how to attach resumes to emails to how to use the computer to land a dream job. This is just a small example of what WorkSource offers to anyone who comes in the door—whether you’re unemployed or looking to start a new career.