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Initiative targets county business owners

by Derrick Perkins Western News
| November 15, 2019 10:34 AM

Job Service Libby officials are launching an outreach effort aimed at making local businesses aware of resources and funding available to area entrepreneurs.

Speaking at a Libby Chamber of Commerce luncheon Nov. 13, Johnette Watkins said many business owners are surprised at the help available through the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. Watkins’ team already has begun contacting businesses leaders and plans to survey Lincoln County employers in the coming year.

“We’re a public entity, there’s no advertising,” Watkins said. “We’re trying to get the word out.”

Job Service Libby can connect employers with training resources, like workshops on workplace harassment, soft skills, creating employee handbooks, and hiring and termination, she said.

Montana has adopted legislation requiring workers filing for unemployment visit a job service site, said Kari Vanderweel, workforce consultant. While most are looking for any work to make ends meet, the staff assist clients in building an interest profile.

That helps employers, because it enables them to connect with potential long-term employees, she said.

“We recognize the high cost of turnover by businesses,” Vanderweel said. “We can look down the road. ‘OK, we can get you a job today, but what job would you want to have five years from now?’”

Given the remoteness of Lincoln County, Watkins and Vanderweel also touted their organization’s ability to connect workers with training, and even pay for on-the-job training for certain positions. The organization has spent about $100,000 reimbursing area employers for training, they said.

A hidden benefit is that on-the-job training lets employers teach employees on how they want the job done, Vanderweel said.

It also applies to the trades. Vanderweel said a plumber, for example, looking to take on an apprentice could draw from those funds.

For those employers who struggle to find qualified candidates for a specific job, the agency can offer up to $2,000 per full time employee per year to train them for a promotion. That allows business owners to advance quality employees within the company.

Asked about outreach to area schools, Watkins said there is little collaboration with Libby High School, but they see opportunities to match graduates who plan on staying in the area with jobs. Much of that is dependent on the schools’ willingness to cooperate, she said.

Elizabeth Moe, human resources manager at Noble Excavating, said Job Service Libby had aided her as an employee at a startup and later as a jobseeker. In 2014, she became involved in SK Fingerjoint Inc.

“You can go and start a business, but there’s so much more involved in that,” Moe said.

The staff at Job Service Libby helped Moe with recruitment and hiring, legal questions and then enrolling prospective employees in on-the-job training, she said. Of the 16 new hires, only one did not stay with the company, Moe said.

“Payroll is a very large, expense, especially for a new business that didn’t have a lot coming in at the time,” she recalled. “It really helped us train the right people.”

When the mill burned down in 2017, Moe turned to Job Service Libby to find new positions for her former employees. It was help she later took for herself.

“It’s absolutely devastating when you have such a sudden job loss,” Moe said.

A Job Service questionnaire revealed she was more interested in human resources than accounting. From there, Noble Excavating hired her.

As part of the outreach effort, Watkins said the organization hopes to get a pulse on where local companies and industries are economically. After meeting with business owners, they plan to send out individualized information regarding potential resources Job Service Libby can offer to address their needs.