Posted 4/15/2013 12:00 am
Artee Williams is the director of the Department of Workforce Services, formerly the Arkansas Employment Security Department.
Before joining the Department of Workforce Services, Williams was the deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services. His responsibilities there included oversight for finance and administration, information systems, contracting and human resources. Williams also was responsible for Children & Family Services, Youth Services and Services for the Blind. Williams also worked at the Department of Finance & Administration for more than 20 years.
Q: What are your thoughts about the state’s current unemployment rate?
A: For the past year, Arkansas’ unemployment rate has remained steady, ranging from a low of 7.1 percent to a high of 7.4 percent. Arkansas’ rate has been consistently lower than the national rate, with Arkansas’ February rate at 7.2 percent compared with the national rate of 7.7 percent. We are cautiously optimistic that Arkansas’ rate will remain steady and hopefully decline in 2013.
What are the trends in the unemployment rate that trouble you?
We continue to see a few layoffs and closures, mainly in the manufacturing sector. The number of people receiving unemployment benefits has decreased, however, since the recession. We are carefully watching the civilian labor force, which has declined over the last several months. Although we don’t specifically track why Arkansans are leaving the labor force, we know general reasons. As Arkansans age, many of them are retiring. Some Arkansans are using the opportunity to either stay home with children or go back to school to further their education, making them more employable.
What is encouraging?
New businesses continue to locate in Arkansas, as evidenced by recent economic development announcements. In addition, existing companies are expanding. Both create new job opportunities for Arkansans, and many of those jobs are in high-wage, high-demand occupations that require a high skill level.
What jobs are going empty?
We are seeing some technical, high-skill jobs in the manufacturing and health care industries go unfilled. This trend, however, began before the recent recession and was experienced across the country. Businesses continue to utilize technological advances that enable them to be efficient and competitive. It is essential that Arkansans build their skills in order to meet these employers’ demands.
Which have too many applicants?
Employers across all industries are experiencing an influx of applicants for lower-skilled positions. Arkansans are encouraged to upgrade their skills, making them more qualified for high-demand jobs.
What advice can you give people who have been unemployed for more than a year?
We want to encourage unemployed individuals to take advantage of the free services available through the Arkansas Workforce Centers located around the state. At the centers, job seekers can apply for more than 13,000 jobs listed in the statewide job-matching system. They also can receive occupational skills assessments to determine if their skills are transferable to current job openings. Staff also can provide career advice and help job seekers explore career and technical training available at two-year colleges around the state.
We also want to encourage unemployed individuals to explore volunteer opportunities, as they could lead to employment. Networking also is valuable. Job seekers should use social and professional networks as well as visit their nearest Adult Education Centers to learn about various work-ready certifications.