I now present Part II, the final part of my interview with Dan McDermott, Executive Director of the Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board, which serves Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He has 26 years of experience in the employment and training industry. This is his 19th year as Executive Director, overseeing an annual budget of $ 1.7 million and a staff of 10. McDermott holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Quantitative Economics from West Virginia University and a Master of Arts Degree in Monetary Economics from West Virginia University.
Dan McDermott‘s work at the Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board is a singularly challenging blend of economics, social work, and emergency management. He understands that a job is an economic good and a pathway to human dignity. Workforce development specialists are unsung, precious assets to our communities.
Our Interview, Part II
John Dos Passos Coggin: When did you move to Easton, Maryland? Is today’s Easton markedly different from the town you saw then?
Dan McDermott: I was transferred to Easton in 1989 to be the manager of Peebles Department Store. At the time, Peebles was the only department store in town. There was a J.C. Penney’s but it was more of a catalog store and was very small.
Easton has grown tremendously as a retail and service hub in the time that we have lived here. There has been a significant growth in housing, most of which is east of Route 50. That is because there is no waterfront there and so wetlands regulations don’t hamper development. The other significant change in Easton has been the aging population—some as a result of aging in place, some as a result of retirees moving to the area. I think that the aging population is the most significant yet least understood economic challenge for the town.
JDPC: Most of your career has been spent at Maryland’s Upper Eastern Shore Workforce Investment Board. What basics should people know about the role of the WIBs? When were they founded? Are they in every state?
DM: Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) have been in existence since the early 1980s. Every political jurisdiction in the country is covered by a WIB because the WIBs originated in a piece of federal legislation. The WIB is appointed by the chief elected official and has a private sector majority and a private sector chair. The role of the WIB is to bring a private sector perspective to federal workforce development initiatives. Engaging employers and being responsive to the needs of employers is the mission of WIBs. It is an interesting concept: local volunteers making decisions about the most efficient and effective use of federal resources.
JDPC: When did your WIB begin using the Mobile One Stop? What is its purpose?
DM: In 2001, a WIB member, George Weeks, began to talk about taking services to workers rather than requiring workers to come to the WIB. There were a few factors that made that concept possible. First, computer networks were becoming reliable. Second, intake and case management systems were migrating to internet applications. Third, the internet was accessible through satellite dishes. Taken together, these three factors allowed us to envision converting a vehicle into a mobile office.
Our first mobile unit was a computer lab that we used throughout the five county service area to provide initial intake and assessment to workforce services for adults, dislocated workers, and youth. Our second unit is a mobile career center that replicates our bricks-and-mortar facilities. The Mobile One Stop gives us the ability to provide an introduction to services in an environment that looks like every career center in the country. We use the Mobile One Stop as the transition from where a job seeker is to our regular career centers. For example, we take the Mobile to county jails, schools, and business closings , and the job seekers come on the vehicle and begin looking for a job using the internet and the expertise of our staff. The idea is that when the person visits a brick-and-mortar career center they will be comfortable with the career center and career center staff.
JDPC: How has the internet changed WIB’s work?
DM: The internet is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is the access to information about jobs and employers that can be seen anywhere, anytime. The curse is that some people don’t have the necessary computer skills to take full advantage of online job listings, online application processes, or online business information.
So, we have to emphasize basic computer skills for all customers. It is absolutely essential that a job seeker knows how to use online job boards, apply online, create, save, and send a resume, and research employers online. All job seekers should have an email address, know how to use email, and have a business-based email address name. It is much better to have an email address such as email@example.com, than firstname.lastname@example.org!
JDPC: One of the major economic events during your tenure at WIB was the closure of a seafood packing plant. Can you speak more about this?
DM: Icelandic Seafood in Cambridge, MD, had been in business for a long time under different owners but always with the same goal: process fish into a convenience food. When Icelandic Seafood announced that they were closing, the challenge was how to relocate well-paid seafood processors to jobs with comparable pay.
Icelandic was unionized and the union had worked for several years on the pay issue. There were 400+ workers at the facility and many lived within a few miles of the plant. Most of the manufacturing employees that we have seen recently tend to be in their late 40s-early 50s. Changing jobs, not to mention careers, at that age isn’t easy. We spent a lot of time and effort on transitional services–helping people through the stages of grief and determining what they may pursue with our help and federal resources as a next job or career.
We always base our service delivery on the Kübler-Ross spectrum on death and dying. Losing a job is much like losing a loved one. We have identified four elements that are prevalent in job loss: shock, denial, anger, and acceptance.
We established two resource centers in Cambridge and staffed the centers with familiar faces: former employees of Icelandic and community leaders. We emphasized counseling services and transition services related to getting a job, keeping a job, and managing a paycheck.
Globalization is not new; I have seen it my entire life with the company that my dad worked for and through my work. On some level, I’m sure that the Icelandic employees knew that someday the plant would close and the employer would move the jobs south and/or to another country. We had assisted some of the workers in other closings and down-sizings in Cambridge.
In the end, the majority of males that we retrained became welders or truck drivers. The majority of females that we retrained became healthcare workers. The workers who didn’t seek retraining gravitated to retail and food processing.
JDPC: Another major event was the closure of Easton’s Black & Decker plant. How was this addressed? How did this become a model for crisis management?
DM: Black & Decker announced that their Easton, MD facility would close in 2002. The total shutdown took a year and 1276 workers lost their jobs.
In general, the Upper Shore WIB has a full-time equivalent of 5 employees to help adults in transitioning to a new job, participating in retraining, and getting, keeping, and managing a paycheck from a new job. We knew as soon as the closing was announced that we could not respond without a lot of help.
Fortunately, the media didn’t know who the Upper Shore WIB was and what we do for 48 hours, so we had that amount of time to create a response plan before we were inundated with questions. We had a “large shutdown” plan that we thought we could use, but we never thought that we would have to actually use it and it was inadequate for the Black & Decker shutdown.
The first premise of our response was that we couldn’t do it ourselves. The second premise was that we needed to act as subject matter experts. The third premise was that we needed every federal and state resources that we could access.
So we created a “community response model.” That meant that we enlisted partner agencies, nonprofits, and others, and asked them to do the tasks that we usually accomplished in-house. We had agreements with 9 entities to provide services to the Black & Decker employees. We hired Chesapeake College to survey the workers and determine what retraining options were needed. Then we asked the college to determine if it provided the services or not. We contracted with adjacent workforce areas and the Delaware Workforce Investment Board to provide services since workers were coming from 8 counties in 2 states to work at B&D. If the former Black & Decker employees lived outside Easton, we didn’t want them returning to Easton unless they wanted to continued working there. We hired the Department of Social Services to provide caseworkers to help the employees deal with shock, denial, anger, and acceptance. We hired the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce to handle employer engagement so that we could find every job opportunity that was available so that employees who didn’t want to pursue education or training could get a job.
On average, we find that 2% of workers affected by a closing may want to start a business. Like everything else about B&D, that translated into 25 people, so we contracted with the Small Business Development Center to provide services to those workers. We brought the Eastern Shore Area Health Education Center into the service delivery to educate the workers about healthcare careers and to provide information about health insurance resources since everyone would lose health insurance once they lost their jobs. The way that all the entities that we worked with stepped up and helped was impressive to me and I feel indebted to those people to this day. It showed a great deal of compassion for the workers and every entity committed to the effort before I had any way to pay them for the burden on their services.
The Upper Shore WIB staff acting as subject matter experts sounds easy on the surface, but it wasn’t. We were admitting that we didn’t have the capability to implement our strategy ourselves and that we had to ask for help. This was humbling and, in the competitive world of grant funding, it was risky. By admitting that we couldn’t handle the closings without help, were we admitting weakness or defeat? It didn’t matter because we had no choice, so instead of our staff doing the actual day-to-day services, we provided guidance to the entities that we hired.
WIBs have the ability to access funding from two sources in case of a shutdown or layoff. The U.S. secretary of labor holds some funding back and the governor holds some funding back in case something unexpected happens during the year. I got advice from a U.S. Department of Labor employee who had just retired as the Black & Decker announcement was made. He told me that it was my job to access as much money as I could and help the other agencies that would be impacted by increased demand for services since they couldn’t access additional funding.
So when all was said and done, we had our regular dislocated worker funding that we get every year, we had the governor’s reserved funds, we had the U.S. labor secretary’s reserved funding, and we had funding from the Trade Act because some of the jobs were moving to Mexico.
The Trade Act application made us think about something that we hadn’t considered before–upstream and downstream impact. In a closing this large, there were suppliers of good and services in the area who were impacted and there were consumers of goods and services in the area that were impacted. We actually added some restaurants that were close to the plant as impacted businesses because of the business the B&D workers brought there each day.
The U.S. Department of Labor was very impressed that we co-enrolled all the workers into all of the funding streams–that meant that we were accountable for outcomes for each worker in each funding stream. The U.S. Department of Labor likes this behavior because we and they can report how many got a job, kept a job, and earned a paycheck, whether a specific funding stream requires that reporting or not.
In reality, I did what I did because I needed to pay bills and the money wasn’t flowing smoothly. Some months I had Trade money, so I paid the bills with that; other months I had money from the governor, so I paid the bills with that. I was certain that the partners wouldn’t be as excited about being part of the response if we didn’t pay our bills.
The average dislocated B&D employee was an African-American female with 11 years of work experience at the plant and $9.50/hour as a wage. We had to deliver services in 5 languages: English, Spanish, French Creole, Korean, and American Sign Language. In the end, we retrained 423 people, with 165 going into health care. Another 400 workers transitioned to other jobs without retraining. 100 workers left the area, many with B&D. And 300+ people never engaged, so we don’t know where they are now.
So, in summary, we created a national best practice model by accident because it was impossible do the response by ourselves!
JDPC: Has America fully recovered from the Great Recession? What do employment figures look like on the Upper Shore? In your region, are there many discouraged workers who have departed the labor force?
DM: We certainly see the jobs report each month that show employment gains and we see the reports about GDP growth. Since a recession is defined by consecutive quarters of GDP shrinkage, we may want to look at that and declare that the recession is over. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “if your neighbor loses his job, it’s a recession. If you lose your job, it’s a depression.” So, I think that the average person measure the state of the economy by jobs. In that measure, the Upper Shore is like much of the country–there are jobs here, but they are service jobs and the pay rate reflects that.
A big impact of the Great Recession in our area was in the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector. The Eastern Shore economy was/is very dependent upon people buying and selling houses and retirees living off their investments and pensions.
I think the biggest demographic phenomenon in our area is the median age of the population. We have two of the three oldest median age counties in the state: Talbot and Kent. With Talbot County, if you look at population that is 55+, it is 41% of the population.
Another phenomenon is commuting patterns. We have a large percentage of workers who commute out of the area each day. But we also have commuters coming into the area each day, so in some counties it is a neutral impact. We have one county, Dorchester, which is always near the top in the unemployment rate with Baltimore City and Somerset County.
So, I think a big impact on our economy is retirement rather than discouragement.
JDPC: Millennials afflicted by the Great Recession have postponed many life events due to economic pains—getting an apartment, getting married, buying a house. Many haven’t begun saving for retirement until their 30s. What hope do such millennials have to build wealth?
DM: The answer is that Baby Boomers need to help the Millennials. This will be a tough lift because Baby Boomers are self-centered. If we want Millennials to do better than their parents, we must not leave them a 1099 economy. We must retire and get them into the jobs that we are leaving and we must let Millennials lead and have the success and failure that comes with leadership. If Baby Boomers truly care about the future, it is time to let the Millennials define the future.