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U.S. Department of Labor Highlights CareerSource NEFL’s Ability to Transition and Continue to Provide Services throughout COVID Pandemic

CareerSource NEFL (CareerSource NEFL) President Bruce Ferguson said the adaptability of its team members and the organization’s past investment in technology were among the key components that enabled the organization to provide critical services to job seekers throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“We had been investing in technology for years so we could be as technologically advanced as we could be, and because of those investments we were actually able to pivot and go to full remote and virtual services very quickly,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson shared his insights on best practices during a presentation for WorkforceGPS, an online technical assistance website sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor. WorkforceGPS was developed specifically for workforce professionals, educators and business leaders as a platform to share training resources, promising workforce development practices and other information to improve employment prospects for job seekers.

When the pandemic forced the closure of the organization’s seven career centers in six Northeast Florida counties, where job seekers receive in-person services to connect with employers in the region, Ferguson said CareerSource NEFL had its workforce of roughly 150 people working remotely within a week.

“That was huge for us to be able to pivot that quickly,” he said.

From there, Ferguson’s focus shifted to delivering quality virtual services – which meant getting team members in the career centers up to speed and comfortable with the new virtual offerings and providing them all the tools they needed to do the job. While the management team was developing new processes to work virtually, Ferguson said they were also starting to think about “what do we need to do when we re-open, how does this look?”

“We really focused on earned trust, both from a staff perspective and a job seeker perspective, so that everybody’s comfortable, we’re following CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines and we’re doing everything we can on our end to curtail the spread of the virus so that we don’t become a hot spot or a place that people aren’t coming into,” he said. “In the resource rooms, where we had computers back to back to back next to each other, we had to pull out every other computer to maintain that proper social distancing based on the CDC guidelines. That, in turn, created another problem: we’re now reducing capacity at a time when we have exponentially greater unemployment. So how are we going to continue as we reopen?”

With funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, health safety materials were provided to further ensure the safety of team members and job seekers visiting career centers. Masks were made available for staff and guests, additional staff were hired to take temperature checks prior to anyone entering the facilities and signage and other communications aids were produced to communicate the new procedures. Ferguson said the organization also invested in booking software to be able to book appointments so that when the centers reopened, it could be done on an ‘appointment-only’ basis so that they could better control that environment.

CareerSource NEFL reopened its centers in late May and has continued to modify procedures during the ebb and flow of the pandemic.  As they continue to evolve the way they work, Ferguson says procedures and systems need to be reviewed constantly.

“When you put a process in place and it doesn’t work, get it out of the way,” he said. “You know, be inventive, be creative, but if it doesn’t work, understand ‘fail fast’ and get rid of that process and try something else there. With the pandemic, and with this kind of set of unknown circumstances, there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation, to try new things and see what works best in your community and it’s going to be different in different places.”

“We have hurricane disaster plans, we have all these disaster plans, but pandemic disaster planning wasn’t part of it,” Ferguson added. “I think our team has done a remarkable job in adjusting to this new environment that we’re in and we’re providing a valuable service and we look forward to making it better as the days go by. We learn something new every day and every week about how to get better and that’s really important.”

To listen to Ferguson’s entire presentation, click on this link.