The Washington state Employment Security Department says it plans to open a new 80-employee call center in the Spokane Valley late next year, where it will handle unemployment insurance claims by telephone, primarily for Eastern and Central Washington residents.
The state agency anticipates that many of the 80 jobs will be filled by employees who would transfer here from small offices scattered throughout Eastern and Central Washington, says Bill Tarrow, a spokesman for Employment Security in Olympia.
The department currently employs about 85 people in its Spokane office, at 130 S. Arthur, and 24 of them work in the unemployment insurance division. Those 24 workers will be given the option to transfer to the call center when it opens in November 1999.
Tarrow adds, however, that the agency probably will have to hire new employees from the Spokane area to fill some of the positions needed for the center. A majority of the employees there will earn an average of about $33,500 a year. Tarrow says the centers total payroll will inject about $2.8 million annually into the Spokane market.
I would be shocked if we werent recruiting employees; were asking staff to uproot their families and move to a new community and I think a lot of people will try and stay where theyre at, Tarrow says.
The new call center will be constructed on a 2.5-acre site in the big Spokane Business & Industrial Park. The site, which is located in the southern half of the park at the southeast corner of Marietta Avenue and Moore Lane, is owned by B&I Properties LLC, a Spokane development company that will construct the building and lease it to Employment Security.
Barry Baker, part owner of B&I Properties, says the center hasnt been designed yet, but he expects that it will have about 27,000 square feet of floor space and cost about $3 million to build. Baker also is president of Baker Construction & Development Inc., the Spokane company that will act as the general contractor on the project. Baker hopes to begin work on the building by the end of this year and have it completed next July. Lindquist Architects, of Spokane, is the project architect.
Tarrow says the structure will have enough space to handle as many as 115 employees, leaving room for the center to grow. He says the agency often has to boost or shrink the number of employees it has on staff depending on the number of claims that are being filed during a particular time of year.
Change in focus
Employment Security currently operates 28 Job Service Centers statewide. Those centers, about a dozen of which are located in Eastern and Central Washington, handle all of the states unemployment insurance claims, and serve as state employment centers in their respective communities.
The role of those centers, however, will change dramatically next year as Employment Security overhauls the way that it handles unemployment insurance claims. As part of that overhaul, the department plans next year to open three large call centers statewide, including the one in Spokane, and four, smaller adjudication call centers.
The new centers will allow callers to take care of their unemployment insurance claims by telephone, rather than forcing them to fill out forms and wait in slow-moving lines at a Job Service Center to have a transaction processed, Tarrow says.
He says that the agencys current Job Service Centers will remain open after the seven new call centers are completed, but all of the unemployment insurance division functions within those Job Service Centers will be consolidated into the new call centers by the end of 1999. The Job Service Centers then will continue to offer job-center services, such as job placement training or workshops on employment and re-employment skills.
The other large call centers will be located in Seattle and Tacoma, while the smaller adjudication centers are planned for Mount Vernon, Vancouver, Wenatchee, and Yakima. Tarrow says the larger call centers will handle a host of employment-insurance related services, including new claims, reopened claims, additional claims, and adjudication services, which is the process by which the agency determines whether a claim should be paid. The small centers mainly will handle adjudication claims.
Employment Security also operates a handful of small offices that are open only on a part-time basis in less populated areas of the state. Those offices likely will remain open after the department implements its changes, Tarrow says.
The new call centers will use sophisticated telephone systems that answer and route calls for processing transactions. The automated system will answer a call, ask the caller a few questions, and then based on the callers key-stroke responses direct the call to a claims specialist, who will verify information and establish the claim.
Tarrow says Washington state is one of about 45 states nationwide that are implementing or have implemented a call center format to handle unemployment insurance claims. He says the move is necessitated by several factors, including customer demand for more convenient, reliable service and reduction of funding from the federal government.
The overhaul, which is expected to cost about $12 million, is expected to save the department $3 million annually in operating costs. The agency also claims that the new system will ensure greater consistency in unemployment insurance decisions, will enable the department to pay claims in a more timely manner, and will provide employers easy access to unemployment insurance information.
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