Lori Forte Harnick
President and CEO, Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region
Q: What is the Milgard Work Opportunity Center (MWOC), and what does it do?
A: We provide education and training for people who are seeking to find employment. It is completely free and open to the public. There are opportunities for people who want to drop into our job resource room to get a little help writing a résumé, or look for a job online, or maybe get some interview tips.
Also, there are classes that go deeper into particular areas, such as computer skills, culinary and barista skills, and manufacturing and construction training. You can drop in for an hour or a day, or you can take a course that is anywhere from three to seven months long.
Q: MWOC is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Is that a big deal?
A: It is a big deal. We’re so fortunate to have this building and to be able to bring all these services together here. It all came about because of a capital campaign, and the community came out with tremendous support and belief in the mission. It signaled to me the community’s value for what Goodwill was doing. The folks who decided to fund this were brilliant, and I’m very grateful for that. It does exactly what it was designed to do. It was such the right thing to do.
Q: Where do you hope to see MWOC in the next 10 years?
A: We’re going to take a hard look at our programs and ask ourselves, “Are we getting the greatest impact for that person?” If somebody comes through one of our programs and gets a job, how much are they getting paid? How long do they stay in the job? Where does that job lead them? We need to do a bit of work to see what the longevity of the impact is. With that work, I think we will start to map out what we might do differently through the center.
Also, as this region grows and as this economy prospers, we have to understand better what employers need. Conversations with employers are going to be really helpful and important over the next couple of years.
We are very focused on figuring out our current impact and how to make it even better.
It’s not uncommon for a Pierce County resident looking for a job to tap the resources of the Milgard Work Opportunity Center (MWOC) in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.
Operated by Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region — a nonprofit that employs more than 1,500 people and operates more than three dozen retail stores in 15 Washington counties — MWOC opened in 2009 with a simple, yet important, goal: Offer education, job placement, and career pathway services that allow people to learn, work, and thrive in all aspects of life.
Whether you are an individual looking for a job, or an employer looking to hire qualified workers, MWOC offers a range of services — from education and skills training, to career preparation and life skills, to employment pursuit and networking techniques.
It’s through these programs that people acquire a range of abilities, going on to become baristas, culinary professionals, transportation and logistics workers, office administrators, or fill other professional roles.
On the hiring side, local companies such as Brown & Haley, Local 253, Milgard Windows & Doors, Northwest Abatement, Safeway, Target, and others often turn to MWOC to meet their staffing needs.
“It’s a place for people to find the first step on their path, the next step on their path, or the second-chance step on their path toward education and employment,” said Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region president and CEO Lori Forte Harnick, during an interview in her office on the top floor of the four-story, 63,000-square-foot MWOC building. “That’s what the Milgard Work Opportunity Center is about.”
Teens and young adults also are served at MWOC via the REACH Center. Housed in the building’s basement, the center helps people ages 16 to 24 with advocacy, education, employment, counseling, and housing.
Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region operates three opportunity centers, in Longview, Tacoma, and Yakima (MWOC in Tacoma is its largest and most visible facility), and directs funds from its operating revenue toward these work centers.
Between 2012 and 2018, the organization’s operating revenue grew by nearly 22 percent, from $65.1 million to $82.9 million. Over the past three years, the organization has spent approximately $26.5 million, or nearly 11 percent of its expenditures, on workforce-development services.
Last year, the organization’s three work opportunity centers served nearly 6,800 people, according to its 2018 annual report. This year, that number is expected to reach 8,500 people.
The bulk of the organization’s revenue comes from fundraising, grants, and sales generated at its retail stores.
“It all comes down to the community at the beginning and the end of the day,” Harnick noted. “It’s all made possible by community donations, purchases, and partnerships. Donating and purchasing goods is one way we deliver our services. This is an extremely generous community that cares a lot about social services. We’re fortunate.”
In September, MWOC marked its 10th anniversary. Next year, Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region will mark its centennial. Both occasions make it an ideal time to take a closer look at how the organization contributes to the South Sound’s employment and philanthropic environments.
Senior Vice President of Workforce Development, Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region
Q: Who’s coming to MWOC, and what key service are they looking for?
A: We get a broad cross-section of people in the local community who come in need of our services. What we’ve found is that even if someone is returning to the workforce and has worked before — or even if it’s someone coming to us from a youth program and has never had a job before — there is a thread of commonality around the need for soft skills, such as digital literacy, basic résumé writing, and how to represent yourself if you’re trying to get a job.
Also, just core aspects of what it means to not only job search, but to be a good employee once you get a job, so that you can keep that job and continue to support yourself and your family. That has been really successful for us. We’ve had businesses tell us that’s absolutely what they need — that it’s been challenging for many folks coming into the workforce or into a new job to understand what it means to be an employee.
All of our programs have value, but that is just a real foundational piece that’s beneficial across a variety of different demographics and populations.
Q: How does MWOC in Tacoma compare to the work opportunity centers in Longview and Yakima?
A: The key, No. 1 difference — and I hear this frequently from people on the workforce development team, that we want to make sure we’re always keeping this in mind — is that every community is different. Longview is a very different community from Yakima, which is a very different community from Tacoma. Each location is trying to understand the greater community that it serves and how best to serve it. In Yakima, for example, we’re building out new relationships and trying to understand what the business community really needs there.
Q: Do you have any insight into how MWOC has evolved over the past 10 years?
A: We’ve always been really committed to providing what the community needs and shifting as necessary around that. We have changed over those 10 years because the community has changed over those 10 years. We try to make sure that we’re always staying in tune with that.
When I started in April, we had just shifted and adjusted our manufacturing and warehousing program so that it had the type of content it needed to meet the needs of the local community.
If you are looking for a job or hoping to hone your employment skills, Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region offers a range of free services that include in-depth training, education, career coaching, life skills, and job placement. Here are four key programs that might help launch your career.
Culinary Skills Program — Over the course of 12 weeks, students work in Goodwill’s Neighborhood Bistro, and under the guidance of professional chefs, as they learn knife skills, food safety, basic cooking techniques, baking, and customer service. Stipends, cash bonuses, and free meals also are available to program participants. Upon graduation, Goodwill provides a certificate of completion and assistance with finding a job in the industry.
Environmental Job Training — This six-week course offers certifications and training for entry-level positions in the fields of environmental remediation and science, emergency management, and construction and materials moving. The program is free, thanks to support from the Environmental Protection Agency, Clover Park Technical College, and others. On average, graduates earn $21 per hour to start, and have landed jobs at the Washington State Department of Ecology, King County Wastewater, and Northwest Abatement.
Senior Community Service Employment Program — Unemployed and low-income individuals 55 and older receive assistance transitioning into unsubsidized employment by acquiring job-skill training at nonprofit or government agencies.
YouthBuild — At-risk young people may receive assistance in completing their General Equivalency Degrees while training for careers in the construction trades, where the average annual wage is nearly $60,000 in the Puget Sound region.