instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Message to McCrory: Start customer service with the Division of Employment Security

Published 02/24/2013
The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC

By Bridgette A. Lacy

During Gov. Pat McCrory’s State of the State address, he talked about creating a culture of customer service at state agencies.

He should start with the Division of Employment Security. Many people think of it only as the agency that makes sure unemployed workers get their benefits checks. But its mission includes providing employment services to workers.

Thousands of people who need – and want – a job in this state could use more support as they try to get back to work. From my own experiences as an unemployed person and from interviews I’ve done since I started writing about unemployment for this paper in July 2011, I have a few thoughts about what needs to change.

Last August, I attended a workshop followed by one-on-one counseling at a local Employment Security office.

There were about 25 of us, all unemployed, sitting around the conference table. We were given a handout, “How Are You Feeling Today?” It had emotions ranging from hopeful to frightened. I circled “anxious.” I noticed that many participants circled that one or “frustrated.” No one marked happy or confident.

The Employment Security counselor leading the workshop advised us to take a good look at ourselves and kick into high gear. Excuse me? As if we hadn’t been doing that.
But the demeaning tone – it was as if we had been sent to the principal’s office for doing something wrong – wasn’t the worst.

There were blue-collar workers and management professionals, people of different skill levels and different education levels, sitting around the table. We all got the same advice from the Employment Security counselor.

That one-size-fits-all mentality strikes me as wrongheaded. Our needs were as different as our previous professions. For example, I don’t think a blue-collar worker needs a LinkedIn profile, but most professionals and managers do.

Reginald Hodges, executive director of the Durham Literacy Center, says about 45 percent of Durham County’s adult population reads below the eighth grade. He says that many of them don’t have enough knowledge to perform a job search on their own.

Who better to help them than the Employment Security’s staff? Why not have its job counselors who specialize in certain types of job seekers? And then, please, let those job seekers know about them.

I wasn’t aware that the division had counselors that specialized in mature workers until 18 months into my unemployment. Mature workers – those 40 and older – have issues that are different than younger workers.

John O’Connor, a Raleigh executive career coach, says he thinks the Employment Security division is “certainly well-intentioned” but that the scope of its mission is not clear.

“How in-depth can their advice be to job seekers when they have so many and are so inundated?” he asks.

It’s clear that agency is overburdened. How could it not be with so many citizens out of work? But its priorities don’t seem to be on the unemployed worker. When I asked about the agency’s burdens, spokesman Larry Parker responded by email that the division had been busy, but the efforts he listed focused on fraud and overpayments.

I understand the state needs its money, but why couldn’t some time be spent on developing no-cost partnerships that will get more North Carolinians back to making a paycheck?

Why not partner with Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) members and their recruiting and hiring representatives at companies and organizations throughout the state? Why not tap human resources, staffing agencies and hiring decision-makers of all types to generate specific ideas of what each would like to see from prospective employees?

Could the Division of Employment Security broaden its outreach? Why not host forums where, for example, local and regional hiring managers speak directly to job seekers on what they are looking for in a job candidate? Companies, government institutions, nonprofits, start-ups, and anybody else could participate. Record these sessions and allow residents to access them online or in podcasts.

Why not ask private career coaches to volunteer? O’Connor says he volunteered his services and was turned down. We can’t afford that with the state having one of the highest unemployment rates in the country? He was told, “We have that covered.”

O’Connor believes that public-private partnerships would be welcomed by private businesses. “I feel I can speak for others,” he says. “We want to help. That includes most hiring authorities I know, recruiters, career counselors and career coaches. Most of us got in this business to help others and that ‘giving back’ attitude is bred into us. So we do what we can but we all can do more.”

It would also be helpful if those needing to transition from one field could easily access info about hot careers. Michael Walden, an economist and N.C. State University economics professor predicts job trends for the ESC so I asked him how to find that data. We spent at least 15 minutes or more on the phone with him guiding me to the information on the ESC website. Several clicks and mishaps later, there was the data hiding in plain sight under Labor Market Information.

The policy makers and Employment Security administrators who decide what training to fund at community colleges may have no trouble putting their fingers on this information but it would be nice if unemployed men and women looking to reinvent their careers didn’t have to be sleuths to find it.

Why not have the label “Re-train for a new career” prominently displayed on the site and when you clicked on it, you’d be taken to a list of careers? If you see a career that appeals, click on it and get taken to more in-depth information: what courses you need to take, how much time you’ll need to invest and a link to the community colleges that offer the training.

Now, that would be customer service.