Throughout the recent recession, Utah's economy fared much better than most states' and the nation as a whole. Even so, during the course of the downturn many hard-working Utahns found themselves in need of some form of public assistance for the first time, as evidenced by increasing caseloads in unemployment insurance, Medicaid, food stamps and other support programs. Their stories and challenges captured the attention of the media and Legislature — as well they should.
As the executive director of the Department of Workforce Services, or DWS, I want to tell you about another group of hard working individuals — the state employees who managed this increasing workload in times when additional state and federal dollars were not available. I am very proud of what they have accomplished as a team and how they have stepped up to the plate.
Recognizing the counter cyclical challenges inherent in our agency during an economic downturn, we have proactively embraced a vision to manage the increased workload while reducing costs and improving quality. This bold vision required the effort and best thinking of all levels of the organization. Senior management, supervisors and those in the field rolled up their sleeves and found innovative and tangible ways to not only meet our goals but to exceed them.
Here are some examples:
Jobs.utah.gov, managed by a small team of professionals, is accessed by a monthly average of over 400,000 unique visitors and over 1.1 million total visits.
Utah has, by far, a greater market share of job seekers served than most states. The national average of job seekers served by a similar agency is 13.7 percent; Utah's is 31.9 percent.
During a time of increasing caseloads, the Eligibility Services Division reduced our cost-per-case by over 28 percent from a high of $57.69 to $41.96 while increasing quality from 90 to 95 percent.
Employees within the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Division proactively managed our trust fund, ensuring that Utah's fund remained solvent during a time of great economic stress. Utah now has one of the shortest unemployment insurance benefit duration rates in the country. The UI Appeals Division is the best in the nation, four years running, in issuing quality and timely decisions.
The DWS Southwest Economic Service Area has partnered with the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce in a "Hire One More" campaign to encourage area businesses to hire one more employee. Our three eastern Economic Service Areas are working every day to align job seekers with a booming energy industry and the Mountainland Service Area just received the "Governor's Award for Excellence" for its innovative job placement strategies.
Over the past year, our Administrative Services Division has streamlined facility costs and helped save Utah taxpayers close to $1 million in the process.
DWS staff served over 31,000 veterans last year and ranked 15th in the nation in helping veterans find and retain employment.
Two hundred and sixteen businesses signed up for the initial deployment of the Patriot Partnership Program with more being added every day.
The Office of Refugee Services currently lends assistance to over 25,000 refugees.
DWS' commitment to continuous improvement hasn't stopped now that the recession has abated. This month we'll roll out our new set of goals and strategies — always mindful that state employees are servants of the taxpayer. In measuring our success, we often ask ourselves if Utah taxpayers would willingly write a check to fund our programs and processes. If not, we work to rethink how we do our work. Our employees understand this concept, and I commend them for their efforts.
Kristen Cox is the executive director of Utah Department of Workforce Services
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