Wenday Ann Riggs has been the career center supervisor at Workforce Solutions of Central Texas for 10 years. Her job is a natural extension of the career she set out to build when she earned a bachelor of social work from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. The last decade was a challenging period for someone whose job is to help other people find work. Riggs sat down with the Herald to discuss the ins and outs of her gig at Workforce Solutions.
What is something the career center offers that maybe people don’t realize?
There is a lot, quite frankly. The biggest thing that we have that people oftentimes don’t realize is the staff. People come in and they think, “Oh, I don’t need to go there. I have Internet access at home. I can do it all from home.” Well, the thing is if you get stuck, if there is something you can’t figure out or if there are tricks that we know because we’ve learned them over the years, you’re not going to get that expertise if you never come here. The staff can look over your resume. We can critique and help you tweak it so it will be exactly what you want it to be. All of those things are free of charge.
What was the atmosphere around here like when the economy bottomed out?
It was difficult. We were not hit nearly as hard as a lot of places. Without a doubt that is true. But we did see phenomenon that we had not seen here ever before with people who had been in jobs for 15 or 20 years and were now being laid off. That was something we had not seen here traditionally. That was very new here. And then because they had been in those positions for so many years, there were a lot of things they were behind the times on. It was difficult for them to deal with unemployment after long term employment and to figure out what skills they needed to be competitive in today’s market. It was very challenging.
Some of those people who lost long held jobs were certainly crushed. Did you ever feel like you had to play psychologist to help people get on track?
Working with each person is very different. Some people were crushed, and some people were like, “That’s OK, I’m just moving right on.” We are part teacher. We are part counselor. We are part job search assistant/coach. We do all of that. So there is a certain amount of being available to just listen, to let them talk about their struggles and stresses. You have to let them know they are not alone, the things they can be doing and let them know we are here to help them at their pace. Different people get to different stages at different times. We don’t have funding for a lot of support services here, so a lot of it is finding out what peoples’ needs are and getting them to the right places. We recognize we aren’t the end all, be all for everybody.
Is there a particular sector of professionals having a hard time finding work in our area?
I don’t think there is a particular sector. Some of the struggles are coming from people who are used to working for the government contractors. And those can be a variety of jobs, so it is not a particular industry. But when you are used to working with government contractors, and that has been your livelihood for five or 10 or 15 years, and those contracts are dwindling, it can be tough to decide how to use those skills somewhere else. It’s what they know. It is very different to work and be a part of the military world. To work in the civilian environment can be very different.
Health care is a big growth area in Killeen-Fort Hood. What career path might you recommend for a young person who is motivated, intelligent and a hard worker but does not have a college degree?
Well there are several. It depends on what they are interested in doing. I had a similar conversation with a young lady the other day, and I suggested perhaps she start by getting her CNA (certified nurse’s assistant). It may or may not be the exact work you want to do, but it will get your foot in the door. It will get you some medical experience. And it will get you a paycheck. And while you are working as a CNA, you can work toward an LVN (licensed vocational nurse) or RN (registered nurse) program. So you’ve got an income while you’re furthering your education. LVNs and RNs are always in high demand.