JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA – Minutes before a ribbon cutting ceremony officially opened the first American Job Center located on a military base, a simple exchange occurred in the hallway leading to its entry. “You don’t need to have a gap on your resume,” said Shellie Willis of WorkForce Central, speaking to a servicemember in her fatigues. “We can fit you with something that gets you through that gap, some meaningful work experience.”
“Maybe I’ll go to school,” the servicemember said. “I’ve saved up my leave.”
“You can work while you go to school, too,” Willis continued. “We can help you do that.”
It was neither the first nor the last future-focused conversation to happen at the Hawk Transition Center at Joint Base Lewis McChord. Transition decisions pose big questions about the future, not just for the servicemember but for the communities in which they live.
“JBLM represents a tremendous economic asset for the Puget Sound region,” said Linda Nguyen, CEO of WorkForce Central.
“Transitioning members of the military represent talent pools I want to keep in the state of Washington,” said Governor Jay Inslee in his keynote address. “And it’s not just the ones putting on camo—it’s their spouses and their families.”
The Workforce Development Councils of both Pierce and Thurston Counties partnered to secure the federal funds that ultimately led to the Center’s creation. “This has been a huge partnership,” said Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier during his address. “Today celebrates the culmination of a decade of work—we’re going to the next level.”
Nguyen explained the partnership between WorkForce Central and Pacific County Workforce Development (PacMtn). “We know about so many great organizations that connect servicemembers and their families with careers. This Center brings them all under one roof—literally in one room—located directly on Base so they get the best service the workforce delivery system can provide.”
While transition services have long been both present and robust at JBLM, the American Job Center designation elevates the level of coordination among transition services.
The goal of American Job Centers is to co-locate job seeker services. At an American Job Center, barriers to communication break down, a job seeker can access multiple services in a single visit and the likelihood of job seeker discouragement drops. But until today, no American Job Center existed on a military base.
Executive Dammeier summed it up like this: “We’re setting a new standard for the nation, but it shouldn’t catch us as too much of a surprise—the 2nd Ranger Battalion is based here. Their motto? ‘Rangers lead the way’.”
WorkForce Central strengthens the Pierce County economy by identifying skill gaps between jobseekers and employment opportunities, fostering data-driven decision making, and connecting workforce development partners into a cohesive, collaborative and effective network.