September is Workforce Development Month, a time to honor workforce development professionals who support job seekers, local employers, and economic development in their communities. Here in Snohomish County, it was a busy month for wonder woman Erin Monroe, the chief executive officer of Workforce Snohomish.
In September, Workforce Snohomish was one of three organizations honored with the Change Maker Award at United Way’s Spirit of Snohomish County Breakfast for Trade UP— a youth apprenticeship program for exploring careers in the trades, which is the result of collaboration between Workforce Snohomish, Snohomish County Labor Council, and United Way. The award celebrates work toward breaking the cycle of poverty, and honored Trade UP for building partnerships between unions, companies, and organizations to help more than 100 students learn about wages, benefits, and career pathways and talk with industry professionals. Trainers from different fields visited with students and gave them the opportunity to experience firsthand skills like drilling into cement, operating a fire hose, and driving a large truck.
“We had four different events, which were way more hands-on than a traditional job fair, and kids loved it,” Monroe said. She traces the program’s origins back to an idea Mayor Leonard Kelley of Stanwood shared with her. “I said, ‘Let’s make this dream come true.’ I see so much value in Trade UP, because Workforce Snohomish is all about employment and helping people connect with family-wage jobs.”
Monroe joined Workforce Snohomish seven years ago as the organization’s finance director. She is a certified public accountant, holds a master’s degree in professional accountancy, and brought to the role experience gained through more than two decades of accounting and auditing work in both the private and public sectors. She was promoted to chief financial officer before being appointed CEO in 2014.
Workforce Snohomish, the non-profit organization formerly known as Workforce Development Council Snohomish County, oversees the county’s three WorkSource centers and oversees the implementation of federal funding from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which helps job seekers with training to help close skills gaps for local employers.
“I love working here, and I’m very passionate about helping people,” Monroe said. She and her staff work to empower people who have just been laid off or who face barriers to employment, including clients who are homeless, formerly incarcerated, differently abled, or veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce. There is a special rapid response program in place to assist workers impacted by major layoffs. Workforce Snohomish actively seeks funding from grant programs that aim to assist clients facing specific challenges.
Monroe’s work throughout the county has shown her the county’s resiliency and commitment to working together, particularly in the aftermath of disasters like the 2014 Oso mudslide. “I believe it takes a village to help someone,” she said. “I’m very collaborative, and I think that has helped us increase our partnerships throughout Snohomish County.”
In addition to partnering with employers, Workforce Snohomish has established partnerships with local schools and community colleges. A program called I-CATCH (Creating Access to Careers in Healthcare) has offices at Edmonds Community College and Everett Community College and offers wrap-around support and financial assistance to low-income individuals who seek a career in healthcare.
In addition to celebrating the Change Maker Award in September, Monroe’s team was cheered by receiving a grant from Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership to partner with Everett Community College to increase the economic mobility of workers in retail by developing a career pathway and Retail Management Certificate program, which culminates in an industry recognized credential.
These successes advance Workforce Snohomish’s mission as Monroe looks toward a successful 2017. “Our unemployment rate is low,” Monroe said, “so now is the time to be proactive in evaluating the workforce system in our county. Looking at the future, we ask, how do we continue to close skills gaps and work with employers to meet their needs and make sure Snohomish County residents can have secure employment in the future?”
With Monroe at the helm, Workforce Snohomish is poised for an innovative, collaborative year ahead.