Task force offers hope of new jobs

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 24, 1999

While employees in Iowa towns are facing layoffs and plant closings, Pam Bishop and others are offering them new opportunities and hope.

Friday, September 24, 1999

While employees in Iowa towns are facing layoffs and plant closings, Pam Bishop and others are offering them new opportunities and hope.

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Members of the workforce task force’s recruitment committee – a joint effort between Greater Jobs, Inc., Chamber of Commerce and area industry – have recently visited two Iowa businesses that plan to close in the future.

Hundreds of workers between New Hampton’s Sara Lee plant and Northwood’s Fieldstone Cabinetry, Inc. will be looking for new jobs in the upcoming months with both plants closing.

Over 175 will be affected by Fieldstone’s closing in mid-October.

Sara Lee, which currently employs over 550 people, according to their human resources department, will be shutting down its operation Dec. 31.

&uot;We’re talking to people who would soon be unemployed about educational and employment opportunities in Freeborn County,&uot; Bishop said.

Members of the recruitment committee visited Fieldstone Sept. 2 and Sara Lee last week to tell employees about employment opportunities in Freeborn County. The quality of life here was also addressed.

The recruitment committee launched a media campaign in each community prior to their visit.

While the focus was concentrated on workers from the two plants, Bishop said other members of the community were welcomed as well.

She added that the committee emphasizes the variety of jobs that are available in the county to attract dual income families.

&uot;It’s good to have a mix of jobs to attract families,&uot; Bishop said. &uot;It’s a dramatic change for those families.&uot;

The &uot;people packets&uot; the committee distributes at its job fairs provide information about the jobs available in the county as well as recreation, education and general information on the county.

&uot;Although we desire to find skills that match skills needed for current job openings, we also find that employers here are very flexible,&uot; Bishop said. &uot;Most companies will retrain if they find an able person.&uot;

Doug Kallemeyn of Ventura Foods agreed.

The margarine production plant received a good response from the job fair held in Northwood. And while those workers are trained to make cabinetry, Kallemeyn said the company is willing to retrain the right people, regardless of prior skills.

&uot;It’s a different type of job than what they’re used to. But many of our applicants have never worked in this type of industry,&uot; Kallemeyn said.

Bishop realizes that some challenges remain with the recruitment efforts.

Considering that many of the employees have been with either Fieldstone or Sara Lee for a number of years – some as many as 20 years – they are accustomed to high wages. While the starting wages in Freeborn County are competitive, they are still starting wages, and may not compare to the amount others made in their 20 year tenure at Sara Lee.

But Bishop said many of those workers might be attracted to Albert Lea not just for employment openings, but for educational opportunities as well.

For employees who were laid off at Sara Lee, money is provided to the workers so they may go back to school and learn new skills.

&uot;This has provided great visibility and I expect we will continue,&uot; Bishop said.

She also anticipates that officials from Owatonna and Austin will collaborate with Freeborn County’s workforce recruitment committee. She thinks the three communities could work together to bring more workers to southern Minnesota.