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Rapid response first step in closure assistance

First, the good news: the number of plant closure notices in Mississippi has slowed down considerably.

The bad news: some employers and employees don’t know about the benefits available for displaced workers.

“Under the Warren Act, companies with 50 or more employees are required to give us a 60-day notice of layoffs or closure,” said Gloria Neal, supervisor of Mississippi Development Authority’s Rapid Response Team, the state-designated dislocated worker unit. “When we receive a Warren notice, we contact the company to offer assistance to the employer and the employees. Even if a company doesn’t come under the Warren Act, we assist them. Often, they don’t realize the programs and services we can provide to them at no cost.”

An early intervention service that assists both employers and employees affected by layoffs or plant closures, Rapid Response provides access to user-friendly resources and information to help transition affected workers into reemployment.

The first step of the Rapid Response Team, comprised of representatives of local and state agencies, including the Mississippi State University Extension Service, Department of Human Services, Mississippi Employment Security Commission, the local Workforce Investment Area and community colleges, involves hosting an on-site meeting with the employer, and union or employee representatives if appropriate, to discuss resources and services available to help manage the layoff and to identify employees’ specific needs.

“The real gist of what Rapid Response does is to provide a ray of hope for the employer and the employees because it takes some pressure off the company and provides information and assistance to employees, many of whom are devastated about losing their jobs,” said MDA spokesperson Sherry Vance.

The second step calls for the Rapid Response Team to host an orientation session with employees to discuss available resources and services.

“We throw so much information at them during that initial meeting that it’s sometimes difficult for them to digest it all,” said Billy Bolden, vice president of workforce training and economic development for Northeast Mississippi Community College and leader for the WIA program in the five-county district.

“People from unemployment will be there telling them how to sign up for unemployment benefits,” he said. “People from employment security will be there telling them how to sign up for a new job. The rest of us are bombarding them with information. Already, they’re under a lot of stress because they’re losing their job and the one thing on their mind that day is, ‘how do I get my unemployment started because I’ve got to have money coming in’.”

Many employees facing layoffs are depressed, discouraged or angry. Most are fearful, said Jim Lott, director of the division of employment training for MDA.

“In many cases, workers dropped out of high school to work for the paper plant or apparel plant,” he said. “Now they’re 40 to 45 and have no idea how to look for a job. Many times, they don’t even know what their skills are. If they want training, we’ll provide it, but most say they don’t want the training. They want to get back to work.”

Many companies, like International Paper, provide space for the Rapid Response Team to set up onsite classes and to allow employees to attend seminars and workshops on company time. Some companies cannot.

“We are there at the invitation of the company and we have to be sensitive to the fact that the company is still trying to run a business,” said Neal. “They’re looking for resources and services to help employees, but some companies can be more flexible with the amount of time they give. If they’re getting ready to close, have backorders and are trying to meet production, it’s very difficult for them to allow the employees to do a lot of things on site and on the clock. Sometimes, we can do our hourly information sessions and that’s all we get.”

After the plant closes, dislocated workers are scattered, making it almost impossible to meet with them as a group to provide services.

“We have about $30 million in WIA money to provide services for dislocated workers,” said Bolden. “We need to use this money to help these people get retrained and find another job.”

For example, WIA may cover the cost of tuition, books, travel and childcare for some individuals, he said.

“A few days after the first meeting, after they’ve had time to think about it, we need to be able to follow up with employees,” said Bolden.

“Do they need help doing a resume? Do they want us to offer computer training? Do they have a GED, and if not, do they need one? Or do they want to start a small business of their own?”

Better communication about available programs and services will help employers and employees, Neal said.

“We always wish we had more time to spend with the employees,” she said. “We need to get word to them to contact us so they can obtain all the services they need.”

For more information on available programs and services through the 64 WIN Job Centers in Mississippi, contact MDA’s Employment Training Division at (800) 762-2781 or visit www.wininmississippi.org.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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