In Pasadena on the Employment Front Lines

Michael Bernick
Counsel with the international law firm of Duane Morris LLP, a Milken Institute Fellow and former Director of the California Employment Development Department

No one has better real-time information on California job markets than the administrators of the fifty local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), and the administrators of the local One-Stop Centers. Thus when I was in Pasadena last week, I took the opportunity to meet with Michael Dolphin and Ellen Greer, the regional Employment Development Department (EDD) administrators, along with Phillip Dunn, the thoughtful executive director of the Foothill Workforce Investment Board, and quiz them on the current job situation.

Michael and Ellen both have been with EDD over thirty years. This longevity is not uncommon (Al Dave, Michael’s predecessor, known as “Mr. EDD” in Los Angeles, was with the Department for nearly 40 years), and means that they were at EDD during the previous major California recessions of the early 1980s and the early 1990s. They made the following points about what EDD is seeing today at the One-Stop centers in Pasadena and throughout the region.

*As well as the predictable increase in applicants (Michael estimates a 34% increase in job applicants over the year), EDD is seeing white collar and professional workers in significant numbers for the first time. This recession is across occupations, as across sectors. With tens of applicants (or more) per job opening, EDD is encouraging and training job seekers not to wait for job openings, but to sell themselves to employers.

*EDD has been hiring Job Service staff– though the current number of Job Service workers across the state, at around 1100, is less than half of its number in 2000. Job Service is funded primarily with federal employment service funds. One positive: EDD has been able to bring in staff with a wide variety of private sector experience, especially in private sector human resources departments.

*EDD has instituted a “Defusing Hostility” workshop to deal with the increased anger and threats by unemployed Californians. For the most part these threats involve unemployment insurance checks that are late or perceived as late. “People are desperate, and will come in and say ‘I can’t survive if I don’t get my unemployment check, or even I’ll shoot someone if I don’t get my unemployment check’,” Michael recounts, and EDD is training its staff as well as reporting threats to the local police.

*Despite the furloughs, which have hit EDD as other state departments, EDD staff are volunteering time to try to keep up with the increased workload. “I have staff who come in on their days off, or stay late, or come in on Saturday on their own time, even though they don’t get paid for it,” notes Ellen.

Phillip Dunn had similar observations on the slow recovery, the hesitancy of employers and the increase in job seekers. He notes, though, a number of niche training and hiring occupations in the area, including (i) skilled automotive technicians, with expertise in hybrid vehicles and bio-diesel vehicles, (ii) skilled technicians for water treatment programs, and (iii) skilled engineers and support engineering staff for infrastructure projects, including with the local engineering giants, Parsons Corporation and Jacobs Engineering.

For years, Phil has kept the WIB very close to local employers and the hiring patterns of local employers. The WIB currently is undertaking a labor market survey to understand the hiring projections of employers. Health care for the past decade has been most steady among sectors in providing jobs and training opportunities, though even in health care, hiring has slowed in the region. The impact of any federal health care bill on health care employment remains to be determined.

Phil is always positive, always upbeat, always seeking to identify the job possibilities. When we met, he had just returned from attending the Green Summit at the nearby Pasadena Convention Center. Though the jobs today in the alternative energy fields are very, very small in number, he is positioning the WIB to take advantage of potential job growth in the future.

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