Thursday, May 28, 2009

Regional job fair a success in Pittsfield

What do you do when your town continues to suffer job losses, and longtime stable employers continue to layoff employees? Hold a regional job/resource fair, that’s what.

Pittsfield Town Manager Kathryn Ruth, and members of the Kennebec/Somerset (Ken-Som) Transition Team helped organize and put on a regional event, Wednesday afternoon, featuring over 20 regional employers, educational/training providers, resources for the unemployed, as well as workshops on developing new skills for the workplace, how to conduct online job searches, and tips on starting your own business.

The Ken-Som Transition Team is comprised of community members and organizations that are concerned about their neighbors that are in the throes of unemployment. With individuals representing social service agencies, state and municipal offices, health care, employment agencies, education, workforce development and training organizations, local businesses, as well as other interested individuals, this team recognizes its role as a provider of information, resources, and support to people who have lost their jobs.

The team was initially formed in response to the closing of the San Antonio Shoe (SAS) company in Pittsfield, and immediately began brainstorming ways to help the laid off workers of SAS. Some of the first meetings provided an opportunity for team members to learn what the employees needed. The first project completed by the team was a comprehensive Resource Guide. The Guide is packed with addresses and phone listings for agencies/resources in the two-county area and statewide. Each employee affected by the SAS layoff was provided with a Guide.

[Job fair attendees gather at the Manpower booth, on Wednesday]

A second task undertaken by Ken-Som team was to put together a regional job fair, which they did last May. Wednesday's event was their second annual Regional Area Job Fair held in Pittsfield, and was again held at Warsaw School. Last year’s fair drew over 300 people looking for employment. This year’s event rivaled that attendance number, according to Ken-Som members.

In response to the recent General Electric layoff, a WorkReady program similar to the one offered last fall for individuals laid off by San Antonio Shoe is being planned in June. The program’s curriculum was oriented specifically for individuals who’ve lost jobs and are in need of retraining, particularly around technology skills. For more information about WorkReady, interested individuals can contact MSAD 53 Adult and Community Education, at 487-5145, extension 413. Applications are also being accepted at the Skowhegan CareerCenter, 98 North Avenue, in Skowhegan. Their phone number is 474-4950.

For additional information about the Ken-Som Transition Team, or to receive a free Resource Guide, contact Michele Prince, 859-1583 or Celine Richards, 859-1585 at the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program (or call toll free at 1-800-542-8227, and ask to speak with Michele or Celine).

[5.29 @ 10:45: Job Fair update-According to Ruth, the final attendance for the job fair was over 400, as 436 handouts were distributed when people came in the door, which exceeded last year's attendance. In all, there was a combined 40 employers/staffing agencies/work programs represented. The feedback from the event has been overwhelmingly positive.--JB]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Retirement parties and sustainable business practices

This past weekend, I attended a retirement party of friend. After 33 years with the same company (the railroad), my friend is calling it quits. Given our current global world of employment, these types of events will become rarer and rarer, until they probably become a relic of the past.

The party was a great gathering—great weather, food, and a real nice crowd of people. Not only did I have a great time, I also met a gentleman from Bryant University, and we had an interesting conversation during our meal, about sustainability, and businesses that are doing things the “right way.”

From this conversation, I learned about Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface, Inc., the world’s largest producer of commercial floor coverings and interior products.

Apparently, Anderson delivered one of the keynotes at Bryant during the school’s recent World Trade Day. According to the Bryant representative I met, Anderson’s story is a compelling one.

Briefly, his company, Interface, decreased its use of fossil fuels by 45 percent and its net greenhouse gas production by 60 percent. It uses one-third the water it used to, and cut its contribution to landfills by 80 percent. By many important measures, Interface is an environmental success. Maybe more important, if for no other reason than to quiet critics that insist a business can’t be both green and profitable, Interface’s sales are up 49 percent, making it a business success story as Anderson strives to make the company sustainable by 2020.

Until Saturday, I knew nothing about Anderson and his company. On the basis of a conversation, I now have a business leader, who also has a book out, to look to and learn more about his model and how he marries sustainability and profit.

For more on Anderson, here's a link to a 2007 article from the NY Times.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Possible explanation (to yesterday's post)

Yesterday I ruminated about why some people seem to be unaffected by the recession some of us obviously understand that we're in. At least it offers a possible answer to why some things (like coffee and coffee brandy) don't seem to be affected by economic downturns.

Here is the possible context I was searching for. It comes from Megan McArdle, via NPR's planet MONEY, courtesy of Twitter.

Apparently the immaculate recovery will have to wait.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Will work for coffee

Apparently, despite our sour economy, coffee didn't make the list of things that had to go. At least not according to this morning's Portland Press Herald.

With so much gloom and doom broadcast nightly, about the recession, and job losses, it would seem intuitive that places like Starbucks, and the high-end coffee shops highlighted in Beth Quimby's story, would be affected by our economic doldrums. Or, maybe not.

I know that I've cut back on daily trips to my local java joint. I tend to either substitute a can of caffeinated diet soda (that I now purchase in bulk, at the supermarket) for my afternoon boost, or bring a thermos of my homebrewed, value-brand New England Coffee. This is a downgrade from some of the gourmet, organic brands I once purchased for home.

Not only are coffee shops doing a brisk business, it seems as though many restaurants in our area (Lewiston-Auburn), at least the higher end types, are not hurting for customers. At least that's the word on the street.

What does this indicate? Maybe coffee has become like beer and other spirits (Allen's Coffee Brandy, the "champagne of Maine"), an indespensible staple of daily life. On the restaurant front, the economic slump doesn't appear to have touched Maine's wealthier residents, or at least those who can afford to eat out four, or five nights per week, and pound coffee.

I'm curious about the austerity plans that readers of Working in Maine may have adopted, if any. Anything that you are going without during this economic malaise?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Focused on skilled trades

Early in March, CareerCenter staff, along with members of the local workforce investment board recognized that the usual recruitment events that have been held in the past, were not going to work given the slumping economy. With businesses cutting back on hiring, and even laying off, it became evident that business as usual would no longer work.

Keeping the focus on growth sectors, and occupations that will be in demand once the economic slump ends, the Lewiston CareerCenter highlighted skilled trades as part of its Industry Information Tuesday series. This was the fourth Tuesday event. Previous sectors focused on have been precision manufacturing, healthcare, and construction trades.

[NE School of Metalwork's Mobile Weld Training Center]

The New England School of Metalwork provided a hands-on experience for visitors by setting up its Mobile Weld Training Center in the CareerCenter parking lot. The self sufficient training unit allows anyone interested in welding the opportunity to suit up and experience welding firsthand. Deputy Commissioner of Labor, Jane Gilbert, visited during the morning, and tried her hand at running a welding bead.

[Deputy Commissioner of Labor, Jane Gilbert, suits up and readies to weld]

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The good and bad of customer service

According to an article posted at Mainebiz Online, Androscoggin Bank will be opening a new branch in Portland this fall. That in and of itself isn't big news. However, Androscoggin plans to employ an "open layout," one which puts a premium on customer interaction, with free-standing customer service "pods" and floating "financial services reps," according to Paul Andersen, the bank's COO.

What I like about this concept is that Androscoggin Bank didn't merely opt for the pods, but also understood that some of its "seasoned" customers, and others, who might be intimidated by technology, would benefit from having real, live financial services reps, "floating" among the customers. Even better, Androscoggin views this as an "investment," which appears to be more than just a symantic ploy to score marketing points with potential customers.

An additional bonus with this people-centered concept, is that it will add positions, rather than eliminating them, as initially, two new staff will be added, with additional staff being planned later on.

This news story about Androscoggin Bank is the flipside of what I recently experienced with Budget, when I rented a car from them, at LAX, in Los Angeles, at the start of my recent vacation.

After a six hour cross country flight, I was jammed onto an overcrowed shuttle bus, like cattle on the way to slaughter, and ferried to the Budget lot nearby.

Upon disembarking from the shuttle, I saw a long line snaking out the front door of the Budget office. While four rental agents were trying to move about 25-30 people through the process of securing their automobile, there were five open stations that were not staffed. I knew I was in for a long wait.

After 45 minutes, I made my way to the next available agent, completed my paperwork, and was directed to my Toyota Prius. I then spent another 10 minutes trying to figure out how my hybrid operated, as there was no owner's manual in the car, and no lot attendants nearby. Finally, after punching buttons, and moving levers, my car lurched forward, and I was on my way, after nearly an hour, the direct result of poor customer service.

Additionally, on my next to last day of my trip, I attempted to call in to the Budget office, to ask about dropping my vehicle off, as the paperwork was unclear as to the procedure. After two attempts, and a 30 minute combined wait, I gave up and proceeded upon my assumption, which happened to be right.

It would seem to me that in a down economy, a company like Budget could add staff in order to provide a quality experience for consumers. Three to five additional staff would have halved the wait that customers experienced, awaiting their rental car. Obviously, Budget's corporate orientation is to do more with less, which always means the customer gets screwed.

Because of their shortsightedness, I don't intend to rent from Budget again, as they were the worst of any car rental company that I've ever utilized. I hope others consider doing the same.