Guest column: Customer service provides face of business

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Guest column by Michelle Morehouse

One of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce’s committees is the Chamber Business Education Collaborative. As introduced in August, the committee will be sharing information monthly with readers that will include the career fields within our community, future trends within these industries and information about education, wages and growth within these fields. It is our goal to increase awareness on the amazing career fields and careers right here in our county. We hope to educate the readers on what types of skills and education are needed for those career types in hopes of helping local employers fill vacant positions and strengthening our local workforce.

Michelle Morehouse

This month our focus is within the career field of office support and customer service. There are approximately 176,000 office and administrative support professionals throughout the state of Minnesota, earning an average annual wage of $38,090 (O*NET). Office and administrative support roles include billing, bookkeeping, accounting, customer service, answering phones, filing, computer tasks, mailing services and more (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). Office Support educational requirements vary from a high school diploma or equivalent to on-the-job training, to very specific certifications. Office support professionals are in high demand with an expected 4,246 openings, in southeast Minnesota, over the next 10 years (Department of Employment and Economic Development, 2023). The high demand and variety of roles that office support/customer service employees provide is essential to business success.

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The businesses in our community can best answer how office support/customer service specialists impact success within their organizations. Michelle Orozco, customer service supervisor at the Austin Utilities, shared that she really appreciates the great customer service her office support staff provide to all customers, and their willingness to go above and beyond for customers.

Something Michelle looks for when hiring office support/customer service employees is “past experience of strong customer service skills; positive public interactions experience; financial aptitude; positive attitude and good follow through skills.”

Industry partners throughout the Albert Lea and Austin area have shared with me the need for highly qualified office support/customer service employees that demonstrate professionalism as they are often the first face people see when entering their place of business. Workforce Development, Austin and Albert Lea Public Schools and Riverland have programming that focuses on office support and customer service skills to support the workforce needs.

Workforce Development Inc. in the Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna areas have developed programming to support the office support needs across our southeast Minnesota communities.

Through a partnership between Austin and Albert Lea Public Schools-Adult Learning, Riverland Community College, and Workforce Development Inc., individuals can complete national credentials, earn college credit for those credentials and choose a career and/or continuing education pathway as an administrative professional. It is partnership programming like this that supports our workforce needs and provides multiple avenues to office support employment and/or entry level to advanced degrees.

Pattie Groe, a local administrative professional, and successful graduate of partnership programming, shared that “the collaboration of all the programs involved came together each step of the way to encourage me as I gained the skills necessary for a job that was outside of my comfort zone.” Patti shared that she finds her office support career very rewarding, and that going back to school at any age for career training is doable. In her words, “Old dogs can learn new tricks!”

Shayla Eisenberg, career navigator through Workforce Development Inc., shared that “the ages of her participants are a very wide range, which is fun because it really shows how universal office skills can be.” Shayla also shared that the WDI Administrative Professional Program has provided participants with training, and excellent resources for job search, resume building and other community resource connection.

Office support and customer service specialists are the faces of our businesses and continue to be pivotal roles in the forward movement of workforce needs. Partnership programming has been a successful avenue for recruiting and providing training to our current and future office support and customer service workforce. This trend continues across other industries as programs such as the Learn and Earn through Riverland Community College launch and grow to meet the needs of our innovative workforce.

Michelle Morehouse is the director of career and community connections at Riverland Community College and a member of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerice’s Business Education Collaborative.