Creative thinking compensates for fewer workers in Warrenton unemployment office

October 10, 2013 

— The local office of the N.C. Division of Workforce Solutions used to be open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but last month it started closing between noon and 1 p.m.

That’s a consequence of cutbacks that have reduced the full-time staff at the center from three employees to one. Noon is when Jennifer Jones, who heads the office and also is its sole full-time employee, breaks for lunch.

“We figure we’ve got to let our person eat,” said Renee Taylor, the regional manager who oversees local offices in Warrenton and seven other counties, including Durham, Wake and Johnston.

Compensating for the reduced staff necessitated some “creative thinking” to maintain service levels, Taylor said.

That includes helping job seekers become more self-sufficient when using the office’s four computers by taking them through the steps necessary to fill out and submit applications, search for jobs in their field and create a resume, among other functions.

“As the saying goes, it’s better to teach people to fish than just give them a fish,” Taylor said.

Employees from the Henderson office will fill in for Jones when she is sick or on vacation.

“We are having to do things differently,” Taylor said. “We weren’t overstaffed when we had three. What we have tried to do is make changes” that won’t degrade the services provided to job seekers.

Dwilina Burwell, 26, of Norlina, who was laid off from her job as an in-home health care aide about two months ago, said the Warrenton office continued to provide good service after the staff cuts were implemented this summer.

“Ms. Jones is very friendly and customer-oriented,” she said during a break from completing an online application for a job at Staples.

Burwell visits the Warrenton office three or four days a week, taking advantage of the free computer and Internet access. She doesn’t own a PC and doesn’t have Internet access at home except through her smartphone.

Burwell said she prefers the Workforce office to the local library because it’s quieter and it doesn’t place limits on how long she uses the computers. In addition, Jones is available to answer questions that arise on researching jobs or putting together a resume.

Even though Jones is by her lonesome, Burwell has found that at most, when the office is busy, she only needs to wait a few minutes for help.

The state had been paying $8,210 to rent Workforce’s office space in Warren County’s John Graham Center Annex on Main Street in Warrenton, a red-brick building that also houses the local Board of Elections. But county officials recently agreed to provide the space to the state at no charge after they were notified of the cost-cutting effort.

It was a price the economically struggling county – it’s unemployment rate in August was 10.9 percent before seasonal adjustments – was willing to pay because of fears that the office would move elsewhere otherwise, said County Manager Linda Worth.

“That office has been in our county for many years now, and people have come to rely on it and the services they receive there,” Worth said.

Staff writer David Ranii

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