The State of Working: Merced County at Labor Day

Over the past several years, Labor Day afforded the opportunity to provide updates on the local labor market here in this space and in some years on the op/ed pages of the Merced Sun Star.

A 2011 picture of the Merced Workforce Investment Board.

My assessments were based on what I’ve seen in the community over the years.  I serve on the Merced County Workforce Investment Board (Merced WIB).  

At the height of the recession, I noted a bumper sticker seen locally that read “I wish I had a job to shove.”  Last year, I urged people to take a minute to thank the person who hired them.  

As we come to another Labor Day weekend, I have nothing new to add about the state of labor in Merced County, California, or in the United States for that matter.  So instead, I will celebrate an anniversary.

It was ten years ago when I was asked to accept a term on the Merced WIB. Workforce Investment Boards receive state and federal dollars to offer programs and services for people either looking for work or looking to improve their skills.  

By law, these boards must have a private sector majority.  My entry on the board helped maintain that majority.  The most visible aspect of Merced WIB is the operation of the Worknet office on Wardrobe Avenue in the City of Merced and another site in the City of Los Banos.

As a director, I learned how the board worked, what the staff of Merced WIB did, and generally how our tax dollars were being spent.  I soon joined a work group that helped maintain state certification of the two Worknet offices.  

That group evolved into a quality committee that routinely evaluated opportunities available to the local offices.  That group is now known as the Business Services Committee.

Steve Newvine served as chair of the Merced WIB from 2011-2013. Photo from Merced WIB.

Workforce boards not only help people get and keep jobs, they also serve as a resource to businesses that are looking for workers.  

This business focus helps explain why Congress, who authorized the Workforce Investment Act that funds these boards, wanted a private sector majority.  To put people to work, an economy needs a strong business community.  

Over my ten years with Merced WIB, we worked hard to be sure the business voice was heard not only in the board meeting room but in the Worknet career centers. 

Employers frequently remind us that most new hires either have or can be trained on the specific hard skills needed to do a job. Employers repeatedly say what is really lacking in many workforces is a focus on the soft skills.

Soft skills speak to such things at attitude, customer service, showing up on time, and many other personality traits that help a worker succeed on the job.

We took that challenge to focus on soft skills when I became vice-chair of the Merced WIB in 2009.  With the help of my employer, we were able to bring resources to train older youth (defined by Merced WIB as between the ages of 18 and 22) for an energy efficiency heating and air conditioning (HVAC) program.  

My company provided equipment and a trainer for the energy efficiency segments of the program.  Merced WIB focused on the soft skill training, job placement, and program management.  

The result was the successful completion by the entire class and the placement of several participants in an on-the-job training program with local HVAC companies.  These accomplishments were recently recognized by my company.  

In the years leading up to my election as chairman of the Merced WIB as well as throughout my term as chair, I participated in statewide meetings of workforce boards held, appropriately, in the days following Labor Day.  

For four years, I participated in a national conference of workforce boards in Washington, DC.  

Participants in a youth employment energy efficiency program receive completion certificates. Photo from Merced WIB

But none of these meetings compared to the invitation I received several years ago on the Friday morning before the Labor Day holiday weekend from a staff person at Merced WIB.  He invited me to a graduation ceremony held later that day at the Worknet office.  The ceremony honored participants in that energy efficiency training program mentioned earlier.  

While most of my colleagues were wrapping up their work in preparation for the long holiday weekend, I headed down to the Worknet office. We proudly watched as several young people received their certificates of completion.  

It was a great way to honor Labor Day with the celebration of skills learned to succeed in jobs created locally.

September is Workforce Investment Board Appreciation Month.   As Merced WIB looks ahead to celebrating the accomplishments of workforce boards, staffs, and customers, let us encourage those looking for work to enroll in the free programs offered by Worknet.  

Employers should consider using the services available to improve their company's productivity.

What better way to honor Labor Day than by investing time and energy in the services available to help improve the workforce in Merced County?

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  In 2009, he wrote Soft Skills for Hard Times.  The book is used as a training document in the Love Plus Life Skills Training program.