Bringing workforce resources on the road

15 Aug 2017

As technology has advanced, the traditional method of finding and securing a job has evolved. Basic computer skills are now a prerequisite for job seekers — whether it’s to complete a job search, draft a resume or fill out an online job application.

For more than four decades, Rural Minnesota CEP has been keeping up with the latest workforce trends, helping people master the skills they need to find jobs. The nonprofit has eight locations and serves a 19-county area — from Lake of the Woods to Pope counties and Clay to Crow Wing counties.

In 2017, RMCEP initiated an innovative pilot project to offer mobile workforce services to job seekers in Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard and Lake of the Woods counties.

Program Manager Sue Hilgart calls herself the instigator of the pilot. When the Bemidji RMCEP office had to downsize and move, she viewed it as an opportunity to “think outside the box about the way things were and how things could be.”

The office’s services had been concentrated in Bemidji and Beltrami County, but RMCEP wasn’t reaching the most rural populations. “The region we’re looking at is beyond rural — most people are pretty remote. But just because the numbers of people in any one community are small that doesn’t mean they should be ignored,” says Hilgart.

Hilgart strategized with local team leaders and staff to develop the mobile office concept and determine the best way to implement services. “Travel can be a barrier for some people. In the past, people had to travel to the workforce center to receive services. Rather than that, we’re coming to them,” she says.

With a team leader, six job counselors and a clerical worker, the office is working to bring its resources on the road. Staff are on the road a minimum of four days a week, conducting outreach in Park Rapids, Bagley, Walker, Cass Lake, Baudette and Red Lake.

Job counselors travel with laptops, portable printers and scanners. With these mobile tools, they assist job seekers in completing practical tasks such as job searches, online applications, resume and cover letter writing. They also help people explore career options and improve interview skills.

Roger Hellquist, mobile team leader, says RMCEP works in conjunction with different sites in different towns, from tribal colleges to libraries and county buildings. “The idea is to secure a consistent space with repeatability,” he says.

This method hasn’t been used in Minnesota before. One of the biggest challenges has been getting the word out. In addition to flyers and articles in local publications, the office relies a lot on word of mouth.

Hilgart says the pilot is still in its infant stage but that communities have been very welcoming. The first phase is establishing a regular routine with set locations. “We’ll gain traction as we go. If we’re not getting customer visits where we’re located, we’ll look at whether we’re deployed in right places,” says Hilgart.

In the next phase, RMCEP plans to collaborate with other workforce partners to do joint activities and increase outreach to businesses.