Four central Ohio counties have a rolling solution that’s helping to lower the region’s unemployment rate. Ohio Job and Family Services departments in Delaware, Knox, Marion and Morrow counties used surplus state funding to convert a used recreational vehicle into a mobile one-stop career center resource room.
Knox County came up with the idea. It had tried unsuccessfully several years ago to obtain federal funding for the project. But the second time proved the charm, when unspent state funding became available to counties about two years ago to upgrade their one-stop resource rooms.
The Knox facility was already up-do-date, according to Matthew Kurtz, the county’s Ohio Job and Family Services (OJFS) director. He and Diana Williams, his workforce development administrator came up with the shared-service, mobile center concept in a planning meeting.
Since it debuted in late February, the 32-foot, Class-A RV — dubbed the Job-A-Bego — has seen about 1,300 people in the region resulting in “at least 400” people finding jobs, Kurtz said.
“We’ve done job fairs,” Williams added, “and we’ve taken it down to our public square so that people who can’t get out to the one-stop can come in and use it.”
The four counties pooled their state funding to refurbish and outfit the RV — work that Kurtz had estimated would cost $80,000. However, it ended up costing about $20,000 less, thanks to a good deal on a vehicle with about 35,000 miles on it. And by using welfare recipients with a work requirement to do much of the retrofitting, the project came in at $61,289.
“They made it a welfare reform project,” said Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association. “That to me is the most impressive piece.
“It’s not just that they did it, but they used it to provide meaningful worksites for people who were on public assistance, and many of those people were able to find jobs based on the skills they were developing while they were working on it.”
Photo courtesy of Knox County, Ohio
Four Ohio counties’ shared Job-A-Bego — a play on Winnebago — travels the region as a mobile job resource center. Equipped with computers, Wi-Fi and other amenities, it’s been a boon to jobseekers and companies with positions to fill.
Work Experience Program participants spent 18 months and 3,268 man-hours to remodel the unit giving it all the accommodations of an agency resource room. Williams said, “A lot of the guys had never done any work like that; they learned some carpentry; they learned some mechanics; they learned some electronics. It was a win-win for everybody that was involved with it.”
The RV now has eight laptop computer stations and two multi-function printer-scanner-fax machines that are connected wirelessly to mobile Internet access. The unit is self-contained with a generator to provide electricity for heat, air conditioning and resource room equipment allowing it to be deployed in almost any situation.
Don Wake heads the OJFS office in rural Morrow County. The Job-A-Bego has been a boon for residents and businesses there.
“Several of the factories in our county are away from our metro areas,” he said. “What this has allowed us to do is provide an array of services. We can do job fairs right on the spot. We can feature outreach for the unemployed at street fairs, county fairs, that type of thing.”
Wake said in addition to providing services for jobseekers, the Job-A-Bego has helped employers meet their staffing needs, whether they are hiring or downsizing. When an employer is laying off workers, for example, the mobile unit can travel to the work site to assist with outplacement, resume writing and job search.
It can also help to prescreen employees, as it did a few months ago for Cardington Yutaka Technologies, Inc., an automotive parts supplier for a Honda plant in Marysville, Ohio.
“They went forward with the hiring, but we went through the initial screening process for them,” Wake said, “and as a result, I think 30 to 35 people got jobs that very day as a result of us being there and helping to expedite the process for the company.” The Job-A-Bego was also used for a job fair in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Potts said the Job-A-Bego — though he prefers the name Mobile Resource Unit — was showcased at a recent Ohio Job And Family Services Directors’ Association summer workshop, and the response and interest from other counties from across the state was “absolutely overwhelming.”
“What these four counties have done is developed a project that is easy to replicate,” he said. And it’s an example of the kind of innovation that’s needed in tough economic times.
“We see the budget cuts, the different challenges and things that are happening; our caseloads have doubled during the recession, and we knew we needed to do something different. So we’ve been trying to find ways to make government more accessible,” Potts said.
“This is one way of showcasing the progress that we’ve made. Instead of requiring people to come to government for help, this is a way that government can get to the people. I’m very impressed with this project. These folks did an amazing job.”