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April 2005 - Volume 1 - Issue 9

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WorkForce One Matches Employers to Job Seekers with Unique Programs

If Mason Jackson were to decide to pursue a career in acting, he might be a perfect fit for the role of Tevye the Matchmaker in Fiddler On The Roof.

As President and CEO of WorkForce One, a position he’s held since 1986, Jackson has dedicated himself to matching employers with prospective employees and, in the process, helping to stimulate the economy and development of this region. And the continued growth of the health care industry is very much a part of his goals.

"There’s no question that it (health care) is one of the biggest growth industries in our area, just as it is elsewhere around Florida and the United States," Jackson said. "Jobs in health care are in demand, and they are the source of excellent salaries. Health care is recession proof; that is, people are always going to need hospitals and health systems as well as doctors and nurses and other medical professionals.

"Like many other areas, we have a high level elderly population," he continued. "It may not be as large as in some regions, but it is certainly big. This area is very attractive for retirees who want to relocate to Florida, so when the Baby Boomers retire, they come here, and the numbers increase. There is never a shortage of people who need health care services."

Jackson emphasizes that health care is just one of the many areas serviced by WorkForce One, the administrative entity of the Broward Workforce Development Board (BWDB). The Board is a federally-funded, locally-controlled organization which provides numerous employment-related services to business and job seekers in Broward County. These services are delivered through one-stop centers in Pompano Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood and 25 kiosk sites located at various community- and faith-based organizations throughout the county.

"We assist job seekers at every level, from cashiers to CEOs," Jackson said.

Some of the job seeker services provided by WorkForce One include job placement; job leads and listings; access to Internet job searches; professional-level workshops; resource rooms with free faxes, phones, copiers and computers for job search usage; employability and career development training; resume writing assistance; professional-level job placement; transportation assistance and childcare assistance for those who are eligible, and assistance for those affected by downsizing and business closures.

"Again, our primary objective is workforce development," Jackson said. "This includes people from numerous walks of life – older people, immigrants who come into our country, young people, displaced homemakers (women who find it necessary to return to the workplace), and those thinking about changing careers.

WorkForce One has been in existence since 1975 "in one form or another," Jackson said. Congress has changed the focus of the program several times, he said.

"While we are a federally funded program, it’s important to note that the local private sector is very much a part of our mission," Jackson said. "That’s a must with our operations. The private sector has to be reasonably represented, and our Board of Directors reflects that as we have representatives of a variety of local entities, i.e., local businesses and organized labor. This concept provides us with a necessary diversified representation and ideas that come from many sources. That’s very important because people too often tend to label federally-funded programs as being part of the ‘big bureaucracy.’ That’s not the case here."

Jackson said one of the biggest changes created by Congress in the direction for WorkForce One came in the early 1980s.

"Our organization was initially formed with the idea of creating jobs," he said. "There was high unemployment here because of a high rate of layoffs. The concentration was on training literally thousands of people who were low-skilled or structurally unemployable. In the late eighties downsizing was the big problem, and we were dealing with dislocated workers."

In 1996, Welfare Reform, described by Jackson as the "boldest social move in many years," presented yet another challenge for WorkForce One.

"We were given the mandate to take thousands of people off the welfare rolls," Jackson recalled. "Federal regulations said we had to provide them with the skills necessary to get them into the labor market and eliminate the dependency they had on welfare support. It was no easy task, but we accomplished our goals and met our responsibilities."

WorkForce One’s 2004-2005 Regional Targeted Occupations List affirms that situation. In health care, for instance, it includes such positions as diagnostic medical sonographer, hemodialysis technician, medical and clinical laboratory technicians and technologists, medial assistants, medical equipment repairers, medical records and health information technicians, medical secretaries, medical transcriptionists, respiratory therapists, radiology technologists and technicians, and surgical technologists. The biotechnology and bioscience industries also are in need of workers.

The RTO List also supports the idea that WorkForce One goes beyond the service industry in its matchmaking efforts. It includes, among other things, positions in the fields of administration, advertising and promotions, aircraft services, architecture, automotive services, court reporters, construction, correctional officers, boating, construction, law enforcement, entertainment (producers and directors), plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, and truck drivers.

"They run the full gamut in the region and across the state," Jackson said of job possibilities available through WorkForce One. "They offer excellent entry level salaries."

Registered nurses also are in demand, and therein lies a dramatic story. "A few years ago we came up with a refresher course for registered nurses," Jackson said. "We had learned that thousands of RNs were not working, and we wanted to offer an incentive to get them back in the work force."

When asked, the reasons nurses gave included:

  • The ratio of patients to personnel (registered nurses) changed in a negative way in the name of cost-cutting measures and, the nurses opined, quality care suffered.
  • An extraordinary increase in the amount of paperwork that also affected quality care.
  • Patients and their families no longer saw registered nurses as true professionals, and there was a distinct lack of respect for them.
  • Physicians treated them poorly, in "far too many cases like second class citizens."
  • Long shifts – i.e., 12 hours – combined with understaffing that also affected quality care.
"We looked at those responses and thought we had a program that would address them and entice nurses to return," Jackson said. "But when they (nurses) came in to talk with us, they asked if the same situations existed. Learning that they did in many cases, the nurses said, in essence, ‘Thank you, but no thanks.’ That is a very serious concern, something that the (health care) industry must address. People must recognize that nurses truly are professionals and must be treated as such."

To overcome the aforementioned "federal" stigma and create a more credible and smoother relationship with employers, WorkForce One, which operates with a staff of 40 and an annual budget of $24-million, has added to its payroll intermediaries (or liaisons) with specialized experience and expertise, to work with local professional associations and targeted industries. WorkForce One currently has partnerships with the South Florida Manufacturing Association, Marine Industries Association of South Florida, and most recently with the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, through which the intermediaries program was developed.

"These are people with experience as administrators or in human resources, for example," Jackson said.

"They work directly with the directors or managers of the businesses we’re trying to help. Because of their experience in a certain field – for example, health care – they can dedicate themselves to that industry. They understand better what the employer’s needs are all about. They can relate to them much better than can someone who is unfamiliar with that profession. That approach gives us instant credibility. It’s a win, win situation for everyone involved."

The intermediaries concept is unique, and innovation is something on which WorkForce One thrives, Jackson said. Some examples include:

  • An end-quicker career advancement for licensed practical nurses. This is a customized program designed to have LPNs become either registered nurses or more skilled in their current positions.
  • A summer program for high school students that affords them the opportunity to become acquainted with hospital and health care careers. Hospitals in the area have partnered with WorkForce One to allow access to their facilities and personnel for the students to interact and learn first-hand about careers that are available. The "shadowing" program also makes available community college credits that are placed in escrow for the students to use once they begin their college studies.
WorkForce One’s approach to its mission has also gained national attention. In 2004, a year in which the organization had some 100,000 job seekers using its services, the U.S. Department of Labor presented the agency with its coveted Educating America’s Work Force Award.

"It’s always nice to be recognized for what you are doing and realize you must be doing something right," Jackson said.

But WorkForce One will not rest on its laurels.

"As workforce development continues to evolve into more than single services such as training or job placement, WorkForce One must continue to create comprehensive new services that meet the needs of our customers," he said. "Our newly designed web site is a good example of how we try to do that. It is meant to be a gateway to access those useful services. It has a section with information on posting job openings, training existing employees, using our facilities for recruiting and interviewing, finding employer incentives, and gaining valuable labor market information."

In the area of Career Services, job seekers can perform online searches, find WorkForce One’s center locations and hours of operation, discover how to get training assistance, learn about informative classes conducted at the centers, and make use of the many other services provided by the agencies.

"We’re very proud of the powerful partnerships we’ve established throughout the community," Jackson said. "While our focus is on helping businesses remain competitive and job seekers find that perfect job, we understand that people have many other needs."

To that end WorkForce One offers information on a multitude of additional services in Broward County such as children’s services, transportation, human services, and housing, to name only a few.

The bottom line, Jackson said, is that WorkForce One’s basic tenet is to link employers to job seekers in a way that will benefit both sides.

Mason Jackson has been the President/CEO of WorkForce One for the past 18 years. Overall, he has been involved in employment and training programs for over 26 years.

Jackson’s community involvement includes:

  • Past president and current board member of National Association of Counties (NACo) Training and Employment Professionals Board of Directors, now the National Workforce Association. (NWA)
  • Vice Chair, USA Works!
  • Past President, Florida Employment and Training Association
  • Charter member and Board member of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Enterprise Council, which became the National Workforce Excellence Board.
  • IAPES (International Association of Personnel In Employee Security), Professional of the Year Award Recipient, 2002 state, national and international.
  • Chair, Coordinating Council of Broward
  • Founding President of Broward County’s Juvenile Justice Board
  • Chair, Workforce Development Committee of South Florida Bioscience Consortium
  • Past President of Volunteer Broward
  • Past Chair of the School Advisory Board for the first city sponsored Charter High School in the country, The North Lauderdale Academy High School
  • School to Career Trainer for World Class Broward
  • Certified Sterling Examiner
  • Certified Workforce Development Professional.
Mason C. Jackson, President/CEO, WorkForce One, can be reached at (954) 535-2300 or masonjacks@broward-workforce.org. For more information about WorkForce One visit their website at www.wf1broward.com.
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