As layoffs begin at Lacey’s Ostrom’s Mushroom Farm, more than 230 employees are learning about the extensive safety net in place to support them. The company is in the process of moving its base of operations to Sunnyside in Yakima County after nearly sixty years in Thurston County and, while some of its staff may relocate, many will remain and seek other employment or retraining.
“Our job is to minimize the economic impact on the people who are experiencing the loss and the community around them,” said Lee Childs, senior program specialist at Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council (PacMtn). Childs is the regional manager for PacMtn’s Rapid Response Team, coordinating efforts of community partners like the Employment Security Department, Timberland Regional Library, regional community colleges, the Washington State Labor Council, Career Path Services, and the Thurston Chamber of Commerce.
From hiring events and peer outreach workers to retraining and support with job searches, the team provides a comprehensive set of services designed to ensure that no one falls through the cracks. One of the first steps was an onsite visit in December to let employees know what resources are available. “Each of us got an opportunity to stand up and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to bring you,’” Childs said. “They left with a packet of information.”
The relocation process will be rolling, meaning departments will close at different times from late March through December. Thurston Chamber of Commerce’s Business Services division will explore retraining and hiring potentials with local businesses, including potential English as a Second Language classes. Of Ostrom’s 230 staff, approximately 140 are native Vietnamese speakers.
“We’ll be working with PacMtn to identify businesses in the area who currently have English Language Learners on staff to see if we can create some training at that business site,” said project manager Megan Fiess. “We can also send some of the folks who are being laid off to Adult Basic Education courses where they can learn (English).”
Language training helps workers who are traditionally English Language Learners build skills to help them move into their next job. “We’ve realized that when we look at the demographics in our area, we need to think about how we as business leaders can create more opportunities for our workforce to become more skilled,” says Fiess. “That includes learning English.”
PacMtn will hire two peer outreach workers from the Ostrom ranks, one English-speaking and one Vietnamese-speaking, to act as liaisons between WorkSource, employers, and employees. Their role will be to help colleagues navigate the workforce system, according to Childs. “They’ll be making sure people don’t get lost in the system because there are so many moving parts between worker retraining and Employment Security,” she explained.
Part of the peer outreach workers’ role will be ensuring that Ostrom’s employees understand the resources available to them, including job search support. “We can offer basic things like resume development, interviewing skills and job search strategies,” Childs said. “We also provide gas or money for clothes if they need to get to a job interview. If they decide they want to learn a new trade, we’ll work with SPSCC to put together a training program for them.”
The Rapid Response Team will also hold hiring events, both on a rotational basis — like Find Work Fridays held at WorkSource Thurston on the last Friday of every month — as well as onsite job fairs for specific employers. Find Work Fridays typically attract four to six employers and between 40 to 100 job seekers.
Fiess believes many of the skills Ostrom’s staff already possess can transfer to other fields. “We have a rapidly growing warehouse, transportation, and logistics sector in Thurston and Lewis counties,” she noted. “Although these employees are coming out of the agriculture industry, their skills of understanding order-picking, quantity, and rotation of product can easily translate to that sector.”
Layoffs are scheduled to begin by the end of March or early April and will proceed by production line department, beginning with composting and ending with shipping and packing. The relocation is expected to wrap up by the end of the year, but PacMtn’s support services will continue through June 2021.
Photos courtesy of the Thurston Chamber of Commerce