While the collective work ethic of the Kansas population is rarely – if ever – questioned, the ability to ask for help sometimes can be.
That’s according to Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas CEO Keith Lawing, who spoke Thursday from the organization’s recently expanded Wichita Workforce Center in New Leaf Plaza at 21st and Amidon.
“Our data demonstrates that you have a much better chance of finding a job if you come into one of our facilities,” Lawing said. “Some people don’t need a lot of help finding a job, but our targeted job search assistance offers a better chance. That’s one of the main things we want the public to be aware of.”
The alliance – which serves as a one-stop shop of services for job seekers and a connecting resource for employers – moved its operation to New Leaf Plaza in July 2014 from a downtown location, and added another 8,000 square feet this year. The new space, formerly a Dollar General, opened in August, giving the center close to 24,000 square feet.
Through October, the most recent numbers available, nearly 34,000 people had gone through the facility’s doors in Wichita. Combined with the alliance’s three other locations – in El Dorado, Winfield and Wellington – that number grows to more than 40,000.
“Part of how we are hard-wired is that you don’t need help finding a job,” Lawing said. “If you have ambition and skills and interest, why would you need any help? That’s what the mentality is sometimes, and it’s understandable.
“But there are a whole lot of employers out there. Our services give people a better chance to make a connection.”
Whether it’s help with a resume, performing a mock interview or receiving training, there are plenty of resources to be found.
“One great thing is that all of our services are free,” said Angie Duntz, a spokeswoman for the alliance. “A lot of job seekers will go to these headhunter agencies and pay for a job search, but they can access the same services from us for free. The services we offer employers are also free.”
Before its move last year, the alliance was located at 150 N. Main for close to a decade, where it had access to about 50,000 square feet. When the building’s owners – David Lundberg and Michael Elzufon of Real Development – found themselves in legal trouble, however, it became clear the alliance would need a new home.
“We were in the first building that Michael and David bought, and we certainly became directly impacted by the problems that (Lundberg and Elzufon) started to go through,” Lawing said.
“This location is a different vibe than downtown, which has a lot of one-way streets and limited parking. It wasn’t always easy for folks who don’t travel downtown a lot to navigate it.”
Inside its current renovated space, the center offers job seekers a multitude of computers and copiers, along with job counselors, specific computer skills training and private meeting rooms.
The center also now has a space for young adults looking for employment, along with a continued focus to help the offender population in south-central Kansas find work. The alliance began offering one-on-one assistance for offenders at the Wichita Work Release Facility in 2013.
Overall, Lawing said he has seen recent improvement in the local economy and jobs outlook.
“The employment picture really is getting much better,” Lawing said. “We’re actually seeing less walk-in traffic and more online activity.
“It’s not quite to where it was during the go-go days in 2006 and 2007, when employers were hiring at very competitive levels. We’re not back there yet, but I think we’re turning the corner.”
Lawing said about 80 people work at the Wichita center. The alliance also has about 8,000 square feet of office space on the eighth floor of the Garvey Center for administrative staff, including Lawing and Duntz.
With a $7.3 million budget for this year, according to Duntz, the center is funded by a myriad of sources, including state, federal, local government and nonprofit dollars.
Wichita Workforce Center
Location: New Leaf Plaza, 21st and Amidon
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday