By David Sullivan, Economic Development Fellow
With the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression currently unfolding, many are asking what will happen when the pandemic is finally over, leaving millions of Americans jobless in its wake. One local agency is stepping up in the Worcester area to help alleviate the economic turmoil and get people the jobs they need – MassHire.
MassHire is a no cost, state-run organization designed to bolster the workforce system and help both job seekers and employers find what they need. There are two branches – the overarching Workforce Boards, which are responsible for 16 different regions in Massachusetts, and the 29 statewide Career Centers that provide customized employment services, advisement, and candidate matching.
I sat down with four MassHire leaders to discuss the ways in which MassHire is leading the way for both job seekers and employers looking to safely get workers employed again. Janice Ryan Weekes, Jeff Turgeon, Bruce Mendelsohn, and Jibrael Younis all took the time to discuss with me the implications and solutions to a pandemic-related unemployment crisis.
The pandemic has ravaged our nation’s economy. As businesses began to furlough employees in the spring, millions of Americans began losing jobs that they could not get back – in April alone, 2.5 million U.S. jobs were lost.
However, we know that this is an unnatural unemployment crisis – people had to leave work not because of shifts in the demands of the business cycle, but rather to ensure public safety. Since mid-June in Massachusetts, the number of reported coronavirus cases has started to plateau and the number of deaths is declining and many are starting to think about safely getting people back to work.
For the week ending July 18, the U.S. Labor Department had reported that Massachusetts’s unemployment claims declined by 24%, down to 5,818 weekly statewide claims. However, unemployment in Massachusetts as of June is still the worst in the nation, and a lot of work remains to be done.
That’s where MassHire comes in. “During the pandemic, we have continued to operate and serve both targeted populations – employers and job seekers,” said Janice Ryan Weekes, the executive director of the MassHire Central Career Centers in Worcester and Southbridge. “Our doors are physically closed to the public, but we are still working with them remotely.” Weekes cited the fact that remote work was already the norm of MassHire’s operations with regular emailing and calling to set up meetings between employers and job seekers.
In response to the increased rate of unemployment and the need to remain socially distant, MassHire has added new remote services including a virtual job fair that was the brainchild of Jibrael Younis, team supervisor for Business Engagement Solutions at Worcester’s Career Center. The MassHire Workforce Board, which oversees the region’s employment efforts, turned their website into a self-service job portal where employers could post opportunities that job seekers could then find and apply for.
Early on, Jeff Turgeon, executive director of the MassHire Central Region Workforce Board, and Bruce Mendelsohn, communications coordinator for the Board’s Resource Development, spearheaded the effort to adapt to the growing unemployment crisis.
“In early February I texted Jeff and said, ‘Hey, do we have any contingency plans in case the coronavirus closes our offices? How can we provide continuity of resources remotely?’” said Mendelsohn. The two developed the job-posting function on the Workforce Board’s website and began manually connecting employers and job seekers through request forms.
At first, forms came in at rate of 5-10 per day, but quickly picked up to 10-20 a day. “In the final analysis we had 300 requests,” Mendelsohn explained. “This COVID resource page was the first we know of in all the MassHire regional offices.”
Soon, the Workforce Board found a more permanent solution – developing a public-private partnership with the app JobGet. Since then, the app has gotten national attention because of its unique form that addresses the pandemic’s unemployment crisis. The JobGet – MassHire Central relationship was recently praised in a Brookings Institution article for its adaptability and cost effectiveness.
“Bruce and I had seen the tool being used out near Boston and we noticed the functionality of smartphone technology – it made more sense, since a lot more people have more access to their phone than to a laptop or a desktop computer,” said Turgeon when describing why they decided to partner with JobGet. “They are also a Massachusetts-based company,” he added.
JobGet impressed MassHire with its accessibility and new approach to job-finding. Unlike other apps or websites, JobGet uses a social media-style interaction to deliver a user-friendly experience. “It’s like Facebook meets Indeed.com meets LinkedIn,” explained Younis.
The app allows job seekers to create a profile and search for jobs immediately, rather than having to upload a resume. Applicants can then interact with employers to communicate their interest and explore if the job is a fit. From both the job seeker’s and employer’s perspective, the time commitment is significantly reduced, a bonus given the urgency of the current economic crisis.
Turgeon noted that the Commonwealth is looking to develop a statewide system for quick, remote job seeking, and that JobGet is on the short list.
While JobGet is an innovative respond to our crisis, Mendelsohn remarked that, “[JobGet] is intended to complement our current services, not replace them.” Weekes added that JobGet was a useful tool to help the Career Centers have greater accessibility, but that their usual, customized employment advising options were still available remotely through their website.
MassHire leadership emphasized that employers who are struggling to find new talent can reach out to any of them or visit the Career Center’s website. “We have a database of thousands of job seekers and we can screen them for you and provide candidate matching services,” explained Younis. He also indicated that they are launching a new “hot jobs” page where employers can feature their positions right on the website.
To get in contact with Worcester or Southbridge’s career center, visit masshirecentralcc.com. Employers can visit the “Business Services” page at masshirecentralcc.com/employers/.