Getting Back on Track After COVID-19

Getting Back on Track After COVID-19 Main Photo

11 Jun 2021


As summer approaches rapidly across Minnesota and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to withdraw with vaccine availability, staff at the Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program (RMCEP) are eager to help match employers with job seekers. One sign of the progress is that while RMCEP offered all its services remotely during the pandemic, it now has opened its doors at all its agency locations as of June 1 for the first time since they closed with COVID-19 precautions. The in-person services RMCEP provides will be key in assisting local employers find the workers they need.

“We provided our services remotely, working harder than ever, to help those who needed employment,”  said Vicki Leaderbrand, RMCEP Executive Director. “But now, we are ready and expect a lot of people coming in needing assistance in getting back to work.”

Leaderbrand indicates RMCEP will need to focus on two efforts in their employment services. The first is to get people back to work quickly for jobs that are available now, especially for those who have transferable skills. An example is finding employment for a person in a sales role using their customer service experience and skills. The second focus would be on proving retraining to get people the skills they need for completely different occupations. 

“There are a lot of unemployed people who do not necessarily have the skills employers are looking for,” said Leaderbrand.

Pandemic Impact

In the Center of Everywhere podcast by the Mn Center for Rural Policy & Development, Leaderbrand discusses the impact the pandemic had on the rural Minnesota workforce. The hardest-hit roles included hospitality, sales, and office administrative support. But a unique feature of this economic downturn is while unemployment is up, there is also a shortage of workers as individuals have been choosing to stay out of the workforce. One reason, said Leaderbrand, was that while originally people were afraid of contracting the virus, it has become something different. People were afraid of losing their job again, especially in the hospitality industry, where jobs have been unstable as businesses may have been shut down one month then open the next to a certain capacity based on government restrictions.

Other factors include potential workers dropping out of the workforce due to a lack of child care or the disincentive that unemployment benefits can provide. 

“We are experiencing a market slowdown in people looking for work and needing our assistance while at the same time, employers have a definite need for skilled workers,” said Leaderbrand.

Getting Back on Track

Services provided at the RMCEP locations range from those that have been tried and true over a number of years to those the organization has adapted coming out of the pandemic. The Dislocated Worker Program is one that has been tailored to assist those individuals who have lost their job through no fault of their own. RMCEP has published this video explaining what they can provide.

Staff at each location can help understand the gaps between what skills individuals have  and what employers need. They can work with businesses to provide On the Job Training opportunities and help individuals access other retraining resources. For example, Leaderbrand said they know there will be a need to train older individuals as the demographics of jobseekers is expected to trend older.

Also, RMCEP recognizes the greater importance of remote connectivity. The pandemic changed the way many businesses operated, with people becoming more and more dependent on technology. Many of the areas served by the organization are remote, with spotty to nonexistent broadband availability, making distance learning and remote working very difficult. In the same podcast, Luke Greiner, a Regional Analyst for Southwest and Central Minnesota for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development stated broadband availability trended from a nicety to a necessity during the pandemic. He related the similarity it had to electricity becoming a necessary utility almost a century ago, with the Rural Electrification Act.

RMCEP is There for You

The services RMCEP has provided for years never stopped throughout the pandemic, despite having their physical locations closed to visitors. Getting back to the in-person interaction means those interested in joining the labor force can utilize the general services RMCEP provides, including:

  • Career Planning
  • Skills Assessment & Updating
  • Job Seeking 
  • Tuition assistance for training in a new career
  • Assistance with a GED, High School Diploma or National Career Readiness Certificate
  • Access to Career Lab