Mesa County Workforce Center exceeding goals in matching job hunters with firms

Curtis Englehart oversees the operation of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, including facilities offering a variety of resources to people looking for work. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Curtis Englehart oversees the operation of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, including facilities offering a variety of resources to people looking for work. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The staff at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction set some goals for its mission to match people looking for jobs with businesses looking for applicants.

One goal was to help 2,500 people land jobs during 2017. By the end of the year, the number totaled 2,891.

“We ended up being very successful,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the center.

Among other numbers included in a year-end report for the center: 51 customized hiring events, 987 employers served and $417,000 in savings to employers in training costs.

Moreover, Mesa County became the first certified Work Ready Community in Colorado under a program streamlining the process connecting applicants looking for jobs with businesses looking for employees.

The local labor market improved during 2017 with decreases in unemployment rates and increases in payrolls and the overall labor market. But the Mesa County Workforce Center played a role, Englehart said, in its ongoing efforts to operate a sort of one-stop shop offering a range of services and resources to jobseekers and employers. He hopes promoting those efforts to a greater degree means what’s been described as one of the best-kept secrets in Mesa County won’t remain secret at all.

The year-end numbers for 2017 reflect services the center offers to clients looking for jobs and applicants, Englehart said.

A total of 2,891 new jobs were obtained through those services. Nearly 5,600 people used the resource room at the center, while employment specialists served more than 4,500 individuals.

At the same time, 987 employers received services. The center posted a total of 7,654 orders for job openings, an increase of 48 percent over 2017. The center  also hosted 51 hiring events in which it advertised the events and recruited and screened applicants. “Its a very effective way to interview,” Englehart said.

A career development program offers paid work experiences and on-the-job training to help people find jobs as well as assists employers by offsetting the cost of hiring new staff. For 2017, those services saved employers a total of $417,000 and in turn reduced the risk businesses are sometimes reluctant to take on in hiring new employees, Englehart said.

Certification as a Work Ready Community means Mesa County has taken steps to quantify the skills of the local labor force and can offer that information to not only existing companies, but also new firms considering opening operations or relocating to the area, Englehart said. Moreover, assistance is available to help businesses analyze jobs to determine what training and skills are needed to perform them.

More than 3,200 National Career Readiness Certificates  were issued under the program and 125 employers participated in effort, Englehart said.

The certificates mean individuals have demonstrated the skills necessary to perform varying proportions of the 21,000 jobs profiled in a national data base. In Mesa County, 69 percent of those earning certificates attained the silver level or higher, demonstrated the skills necessary to perform 67 percent of the jobs in the data base. Seventeen percent of those earning certificates in Mesa County attained the gold level or higher, meaning they can handle 93 percent of the jobs in the data base.

The program quantifies the local labor force and offers a comparison on a national scale, Englehart said. Those who’ve taken the tests to earn certificates in Mesa County performed 13 percent higher than the national average. “We found out that we have a very skilled work force and a very motivated one.”

The certificates also help in better matching applicants with job openings, reducing a potentially large pile of resumes to a smaller and more manageable pile, he said.

The other component of the Work Ready Community program offers free job profiling for local employers, including the tasks involved and skills required for a position. The profiles then can be used to determine what training and skills are needed to successfully work in that position.

In addition to its own programs and services, the Mesa County Workforce Center joined in other workforce and economic development efforts in 2017, Englehart said.

The center has worked with the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce on a number of efforts, including the Young Entrepreneurs Academy as well as a program offering paid internships for young adults.

The center also partners with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, a collaboration that in 2017 included training for new employees hired as part of an expansion at the StarTek calling center in Grand Junction.

Still other efforts involve the Business Incubator Center, Colorado Mesa University, Mesa County School District 51 and Western Colorado Community College, Englehart said.

Labor conditions improved in Mesa County in 2017, Englehart said. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped from a high of 5.8 perent in January to a low of 3 percent in August before climbing to 4.3 percent in December, the latest month for which estimates re available.

Between December 2016 and December 2017, Mesa County payrolls increased 2,049, or about 3 percent. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, increased nearly 2.9 percent, but at 73,067 remains well below peak employment of 84,000 in 2009.

While the jobless rate and average weekly wages in Mesa County remain below statewide numbers, Englehart said the comparison isn’t a fair one because of the concentration of the Colorado work force in Denver and the Front Range.

Mesa County compares more favorably to other areas its size, he said. In Pueblo County, the jobless rate in December was higher at 4.7 percent. Wages paid during the second quarter of 2017, the latest period for which numbers are available, averaged $787 a week in Mesa County and $757 in Pueblo County, he said.

The Mesa County Workforce Center is located at 512 29 1/2 Road in Grand Junction. For more information about programs and services offered there, call 248-0871 or log on to the website at www.mcwfc.us.