The 2019 Louisiana Labor Summit, which is taking place from March 19th-22nd in New Orleans, features a variety of topics about Workforce Commission activities and economic development potential in our state. On Wednesday morning, Ken Messina, Business Services/Rapid Response Manager for MassHire BizWorks, spoke to participants about his state of Massachusetts’ Rapid Response efforts, focusing specifically on layoff aversion. The interactive presentation was one of three led by Messina about connecting with businesses and understanding the business cycle so that Louisiana’s Rapid Response program can learn from his success.
Messina led the conversation with his Louisiana attendees by explaining his personal experience with layoffs. “I’m a Rapid Response nut! I was a steel worker for eleven years,” he said. “Then I got laid off when my company went under. I started doing Rapid Response, union steward, and now I train people all over the country on Rapid Response.” He continued by saying that it’s important for all parties involved to understand what it feels like to sit in front of someone who is going to lose their job.
Originally, according to Messina, all Rapid Response efforts through state government were supposed to have a layoff aversion component. The problem, he said, is that few businesses know the programs exist, and if they do, may not have much faith in them. Messina emphasized that Rapid Response was the “first business program” in the workforce development arena, and that its purpose is to connect services/agencies that can assist in these transitions resulting from the business cycle. “We gotta get out to businesses so that they know we exist,” he said. “We have to build those relationships so that they’ll call us when they think a layoff is coming, and then we can get on the ground early.”
By getting on the ground early, Messina says the key is to prevent the employees from ever getting on unemployment in the first place, or if they do, to reduce that time. Limiting unemployment insurance is vital to the politics of the program, it provides return on investment for state governments.
The process for Rapid Response is as follows: unemployment insurance, on site workshops, individual counseling, and then job fairs/company matching. “These services happen before the layoff, on site, on company time,” Messina said. The reason unemployment insurance registration happens first is as a security measure, because workers facing a layoff are most concerned about supporting their family.
After that initial unemployment insurance sign-up, company matching is the most promising of interventions. “When I’m out there doing business engagement with healthy companies that are looking to hire people, and I show them the options, they’re like a kid in a candy store,” Messina said. “We come with those companies and say, ‘we can connect you before they lose their jobs.’ I’ve walked companies through a company that’s closing and they can’t believe how great it is to see exactly what these folks do and get HR on each side to match them.” Though Messina warned against the “white knight” theory of layoff aversion, he emphasized that the more awareness there is, the better the result for all parties involved.
Messina concluded his presentation by laying out what he calls the “Two Sides of Layoff Aversion” through Rapid Response. The first side is “saving the company or jobs” and includes: lessening the number of jobs affected by the layoffs by utilizing grants or work share, furloughing employees, and in some cases, an employee buyout of the company (ESOP). The second side is the broader idea – “lessening the impact of layoffs.” Lessening the impact includes services like company match, engagement with growing companies/sectors, and building an early warning network.
Overall, according to Messina, it’s about honesty and outreach. “The employees see the production going down,” Messina said. “They know what’s going on. We can improve morale and save these jobs if we get out, connect with the companies, and they trust our process enough to bring us in.”
Louisiana offers nearly all of the services Messina discussed in his program. State Rapid Response Coordinator Andre France is the point of contact. More information about Louisiana Rapid Response is available here.