Spokane Journal of Business

Rightsizing WorkSource in an improving economy

State agency shrinks, shifts as the job market improves

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-—Linn Parish
WorkSource Spokane administrator Michelle Sanchez says the agency pared back its office space to half of what it had been.

Unemployment rate and total employment are two of WorkSource Spokane’s common gauges of economic health, but another number also is telling: 43.

That’s the number of people currently employed at WorkSource, says Michelle Sanchez, the employment agency’s Spokane-based administrator. That’s down, she says, from 70 in 2011 and 110-plus in 2007. WorkSource Spokane’s own staffing level had been on decline consistently until late last year, and Sanchez says she expects the office’s staffing levels are stable at this point. 

“Us being a little smaller is a good sign for Spokane County,” Sanchez says.

Along with reducing staffing levels, WorkSource Spokane earlier this year reduced by half its office space, located at 130 S. Arthur, just under a mile east of downtown. The organization is now housed in about 19,000 square feet of office space on one level, down from 40,000 square feet on two levels in the same building. 

“It was really a business decision to review our facilities,” Sanchez says. “Are there ways to tighten our belt? I’d rather have staff than a building.”

WorkSource now operates on a $4 million annual budget, Sanchez says. Sanchez’s predecessor, current Spokane County chief operating officer John Dickson, told the Journal in 2012 that the agency had an annual budget of $6.9 million.

To centralize employment services, 14 other state agencies and organizations have at least one staff member located at WorkSource. Examples include Career Path Services and the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries. Sanchez says staffing levels for those partner organizations within WorkSource have remained relatively consistent. 

The changes at WorkSource follow a steadily improving job market in the Spokane area. Late last month, the Washington state Employment Security Department reported a preliminary unemployment rate of 6.3 percent for May in Spokane County. That’s down from unemployment of 6.7 percent in the year-earlier month. A separate state report put total employment in the county at 214,070 in May, up from 208,790 in the year-earlier month.

For 2014, Spokane County’s average annual unemployment rate came in at 7.1 percent. While that’s nearly a percentage point higher than the most recently released figure, it was an improvement compared with previous years. Washington state Employment Security Department reported Spokane County annual average unemployment rates of 7.9 percent in 2013, 8.8 percent in 2012, 9.1 percent in 2011, and a peak of 9.6 percent in 2010. 

WorkSource serves both job seekers and employers who are looking to hire. 

“We’re always focused on both sides of the house,” Sanchez says.

The mix of prospective employees and employers, however, has changed dramatically in the past five years. Sanchez says that in 2010, WorkSource Spokane assisted 27,000 job seekers and 6,000 potential employers. So far this year, the agency has helped about 5,000 people looking for work and 14,500 employers. 

At the current pace, about 10,000 job hunters will seek assistance at WorkSource Spokane this year. At that volume, the number of out-of-work people would be about 1,000 fewer than in 2014, Sanchez says. 

Earlier this month, WorkSource Spokane had about 3,000 jobs posted on its website, with many employers routinely setting up tables in WorkSource’s foyer in order to talk with job seekers as they walk in the door. 

While those jobs are in a wide spectrum of industries, the most common sectors in which employers are seeking workers remain relatively consistent. They include, in no particular order, manufacturing, health care, professional, finance and insurance, and transportation and warehousing. 

Sanchez says many employers need assistance in getting new employees up to speed on a specific job. In some cases, she says, “They’re needing to bring in folks to be trained by seasoned folks before they leave.”

To that end, she says the agency is spending more time helping employers find the training resources they require. 

The Employment Security Department unveiled a new website at the end of June. Sanchez says it’s designed to enable visitors to find employment data and information about job training and unemployment benefits more easily.  

WorkSource is revamping its website, which mostly focuses on connecting employers with prospective employees, and plans to roll out its new online look later this year. Sanchez says WorkSource is working with Monster Worldwide, the large New York-based company that operates the Monster.com job-search website, to incorporate that company’s 6Sense talent management software into the agency’s new site. She says the new site is expected to help job seekers rank and match prospective employers more effectively.

“Having a powerful partner in technology with Monster, we’re very fortunate,” Sanchez says. “Staff is really excited to have a new tool.”

WorkSource Spokane serves Spokane County exclusively and is one of about a dozen WorkSource development areas in Washington state. 

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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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