In the Pacific Northwest, Labor Department employees have aggressively pursued the NPR's concept of one-stop shopping for jobless workers, completely overhauling some of their obsolete processes.
Their success offers an important lesson for would-be reinventors: Rather than accept the existing government systems as a starting point, start first by focusing on customers -- in this case, the laid-off workers -- and then build a new system to serve them.
Facing the prospect of 19,000 newly unemployed Boeing workers, 12,000 of whom needed comprehensive services, the Region Ten office in Seattle foresaw that available services would prove inadequate. In response, they created a broad-based partnership of the Labor Department, Washington State agencies, community and technical colleges, the company, and several unions. The goal: to use federal, state, local, and private resources to create easily accessible, one-stop career centers, targeted to the laid-off workers.
As Region Ten's employees understood, government could not do the job alone. "It just wasn't possible to fund all of the needs of the dislocated workers," said Gary De Rosa, a DOL dislocated worker specialist in Seattle. "We had to leverage scarce public resources. . . and put together a partnership."
Now, the jobless worker can take advantage of unemployment insurance and such employment services as job searches, explorations of career options, resume writing, classes on interviewing, and job placements. Rather than force the jobless to spend their own money, these centers provide copy and fax machines, computers, and long-distance phone services; workers at the centers not only teach their customers about the computers, but also provide the needed pats on the back and other personal encouragement.
The human element is crucial. As Paulette Alston, a counselor at the Boeing Reemployment Center, put it, "You have to be very creative in that you're working with individual lives, you're dealing with dislocated workers and high emotions."
Indeed they were, as Karen Ayers, a laid-off Boeing worker who found a new job through the Boeing Reemployment Center, told Vice President Gore.
"And you felt like you were really cared for as a person?" he asked.
"I was! I was! I mean, it was like a crisis hotline," Ayers replied.
After some laughter, she went on:
There was a time when I was really depressed, when it was sinking in that I was laid off, and really feeling sorry for myself. And I talked to a lady on the phone that I had never even met, and was telling her that I was concerned because unemployment was running out, and I didn't have a job yet, and I was starting to panic. And she was absolutely wonderful. It was the Friday before Easter, and she told me to come in after the weekend. We were going to do my resume, we were going to go through the Jobnet system, which links into a computer, things I hadn't even thought of.
To date, some 5,000 former Boeing workers have tapped into the centers.