June 16, 2021

In the past year, Kari Haugen’s role of bringing people together became more urgent as needs became greater.

“It would have been easy to step back during COVID, but now is the time to run toward issues that hold people back,” said Haugen, Director of WorkForce Partnerships at WorkForce Central.

For example, as busy as healthcare leaders have been, members of the Pierce County Healthcare Careers Council, among multiple other partners, still found a way to hold a virtual career fair for high school students this spring.

Haugen, who supports the council, engages with many cross-county workgroups that focus on issues ranging from education to food security to childcare. All relate to WorkForce Central’s goals to reconnect youth to school or employment and ensure adults achieve a high school diploma or General Education Development Certificate (GED).

Kari Haugen
Director of Workforce Partnerships

“My job is to help create the space to spark innovation and thought partnership,” Haugen said. “We have a very generous community of partners who are willing to share their toolkits.” Sharing best practices, needs, and ideas recently led to a common cause with military recruiters who sought WorkForce Central’s help for potential recruits needing to gain a high school diploma or GED.

Partner conversations around COVID sparked the creation of the Pierce County Recovery Corps young adult program. WorkForce Central partnered with food banks, childcare organizations, and other local businesses and nonprofits to place young adults as paid support for community recovery efforts. The goal was to support, not replace, other workers. For example, Recovery Corps Childcare Assistants provided online support to help children log in to virtual classes. The young adults relieved pressure on the childcare staff, gave students the boost they needed, and earned while learning on the job.

“We place so much value on work. Having meaningful employment really changes people’s lives,” Haugen explained.

Haugen also leads WorkForce Central’s Pre-Employment Transition Services. This program helps high school students with a documented disabilities prepare for employment and transition into the working world after graduation. WorkForce Central partners with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), Pierce County school districts, and Vadis Supported Employment Agency to offer workplace readiness training, learning activities such as job site tours, and paid work experiences.

Haugen said the past year has been both challenging and rewarding. “Virtual work was a challenge at first, but we’ve leaned into it. We are getting more skilled at really asking for what we need and giving each other more grace.”

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