Area Employers meet to discuss HR ideas and concerns

Representatives from several area companies, including Cobalt Medplans, Ward Kraft, Peerless, Mercy, Extrusions, Firstsource, Labconco and others, met at the Papa Don’s meeting room in downtown Fort Scott to discuss and exchange ideas related to employee retention and hiring.

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Jolene Ray, Business Service Representative and John Tersinar, Operations Manager of Kansas Works in the Fort Scott area presented information on how to optimize searches for prospective employees. Within the Kansas Works system, as Ray demonstrated, an employer has the ability to search using several filters, including level of education, location and keyword. Ray encouraged employers to call Kansas Works and ask for employee referrals to save employers time in interviews. Ray said, “It is highly key to contact us and get a referral from us.” Ray mentioned that this strategy allows an employer to gather additional information about a prospective employee before holding an interview.

Tersinar addressed questions regarding the “On the Job Training” (OJT) program in which Kansas Works pays for a potential employee’s training, providing that individual is qualified for the program. Tersinar explained that Kansas Works “[buys] training from the company” instead of hiring an outside entity as a training provider. Tersinar also highlighted the agency’s success with employee placement. Tersinar said, “I think our success rate is high 80s to 90s in the past 3 years” regarding employee placement.

In addition, Ray and Tersinar presented an additional tool for employers’ use in searching for quality employees. Tersinar explained that Kansas Works offers a “Work Ready” certificate that is granted to employees who achieve a certain level of competency in basic math, reading and writing skills. “A lot of companies are seeing the value in the Work Keys and ‘Work Ready!’ Certificate,” Tersinar remarked. Ray noted that PITSCO, a company in Pittsburg, KS that creates education curricula, now uses the Work Ready! Certificate scores in order to screen applicants for their picker/packer positions. Ray said that the test is administered by ACT, and that a potential employee that scores a “Gold” on the test is likely an employee who is teachable.

Mike Jackman of Peerless Products, Inc. suggested that area employers make use of the Work Ready! certificate program. Jackman mentioned that using the certificate to look for quality employees might result in “higher retention rates” of employees for Fort Scott area companies.

Regarding attracting quality workers for area companies, Michael Bryant, Vice President of Operations at Cobalt Medplans said, “As a community, we’re going to have to get creative to keep growing,” and that the area is in need of a larger labor pool of skilled and educated workers in order to allow companies’ continued expansion.

Cobalt Medplans looking to hire

At this morning’s Chamber Coffee held at Cobalt Medplans, Vice President of Operations Michael Bryant announced that the company is looking for employees experienced with claims processing and customer service.

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Cobalt Medplans Vice President of Operations Michael Bryan converses with City Manager Dave Martin at today’s Chamber Coffee

Bryant explained that the company is not just an insurance company, but that it also has other operations housed under the same roof. Bryant told visitors that the company offers claims processing services, and that the company is piloting a customer service call center that serves Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, the same company branch for which they process claims. Cobalt employees access claims in Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City’s system in order to process the information. Several months ago in February 2013, the company began what Bryant referred to as a “2nd operation of taking calls.” The customer service operations allow questions from customers to be answered by employees located in the same area, which facilitates communication and allows questions to be answered by employees who have a greater familiarity with the needs and concerns of customers in the area.

Bryant said that Cobalt Medplans currently has three locations, one in Fort Scott, another in Rockford, Illinois, and a third in Kansas City. The Fort Scott location employs 90 of the company’s 150 total employees. Bryant announced that the company wishes to expand, and explained that the company needs resources with which to succeed. Bryant said, “We look forward to continuing to grow and finding those experienced resources that allow us to do so.”

In other news:

  • City Manager Dave Martin announced the city’s consideration of moving the date of the fireworks display next year. Martin cited safety concerns because of the large number of people setting off their own night works during the public fireworks display.
  • First Methodist Church will be offering Vacation Bible School to area children and encouraged all who can to attend and enjoy the activities the church has prepared.
  • Kelly Collins, Chief Ranger of the Fort Scott National Historic Site, announced Independence Day activities to be held at the Fort. The staff and volunteers will be hosting 4 days of activities, including firing the cannon at dusk on June 29th, and living history activities on July 6th and 7th. Festivities including ice cream and music from local musical group Fuss n’ Feathers will be held on July 4th at 2:15 at the Fort.

Radio Shack and Nick Graham bring back computer repair services

Radio Shack has recently hired Nick Graham as a computer repair technician for the Fort Scott location. Graham works on both Macs and PCs, and provides both hardware and software repair to customers. He has over a decade of experience in the field of information technology, a definite asset to those in need of computer repair.We caught up with Nick for an interview about the services he offers at Radio Shack and his past experiences in the field of Information Technology.

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We asked how Graham got started in the field, and his reply reveals lots of experience with the foundation of computer technology and how things have changed. He mentioned that the first computer he used was a friend’s 1993-1994 Acer desktop computer with an Intel 486 33 Mhz processor. Graham said, “Computers honestly haven’t changed fundamentally at the base level in the nearly 20 years since that Acer, but how much they can do and how fast they can do it is what continually astonishes me. The technology evolves so fast that you can easily get left behind.”

When asked what he works on most, Graham replied that he often works on software issues for customers. Graham said, “Our main business is definitely malware and virus removal.” Graham mentioned that most free downloads come with extra things attached, and that most of these things slow down the user’s computer. Graham said, “Combine that with actual viruses that are *designed* to make your computing life miserable, and a PC can start running like it’s pedal powered pretty quickly.” Graham explained that many recent pop-up ads are designed to look like legitimate computer programs, and that the program the pop-up installs typically contains spyware that compromises the security of the computer user. He mentioned that he does a “fair amount” of hardware replacement, too.

Graham also mentioned that while computer technology has become affordable, that affordability sometimes comes at a price: “As technology like PCs and printers have gotten cheaper, so have their construction and quality. There are computer brands out there I used to swear by that I now advise people to avoid like the plague,” Graham said.

While Graham works on both Macs and PCs, we also asked about the extent of repair he offers for Macs. Graham said that he provides the “bare basics” on repairs for Macs, such as “system restorations/operating system reloads, hard drive and RAM replacement.” Graham said, “Macs these days are more and more built to only be worked on by Mac techs, and can’t have a lot of off the shelf repairs done on them. . . A good example of this is the new Mac Pro Apple unveiled last week. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, but not exactly service-friendly, which is by design.”

However, the good news for Fort Scott residents is that we now have full computer repair  for PCs and basic repair for Macs available in town. Stop by Radio Shack and see Nick Graham to fix a software issue or to have a hardware problem resolved!

Tri-Valley, Appraiser’s office submit funding requests

At this morning’s meeting, Bourbon County Commissioners listened as two more entities brought requests for funding. The county will start work on the budget the first of July, and many organizations have brought forward financial requests in the past month. Jim Cunningham, Executive Director of Tri-Valley Developmental Services, presented a portfolio including Tri-Valley’s work in past years, as well as upcoming needs.

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Cunningham requested a total of $65,000 from the county for the upcoming year, citing cuts in state funding that have caused reductions in staff in past years. Cunningham said that the organization is holding the budget steady, but expenses keep rising. “We’ve pretty well cut our budget to the bone,” Cunningham said. Tri-Valley currently employs 140 people area wide and serves four counties–Bourbon, Neosho, Allen and Crawford. Cunningham said that funding cuts had caused a loss of 22 employees over the past 6 years, and that these lost jobs also brought about lost tax dollars to the county. Cunningham also highlighted a few changes since KanCare took effect. According to Cunningham, 22,000 people were disenrolled since January 1st of this year.

Cunningham reported that there are currently 53 staff members working in Bourbon County, and that there are 61 Bourbon County residents being served by the organization. Tri Valley offers vocational rehabilitation, transportation and many other services, and that there are currently 28 people on their waiting list.

A county department also presented a request for a slight increase in funding. Judy Wallis of the Bourbon County Appraiser’s Office presented her office budget from the past year, and the areas she saw room to cut funding this coming year. Wallis explained that “Everything else but the personnel is going to be down $1,500,” and that she works many hours of overtime at her salaried position, which pays less than the same position in other counties of similar size and composition as Bourbon County. Wallis requested that a 3% increase in salary per year be built into the budget in order to keep the salary comparable with others in the area.

 

Fort Scott area employer exchange to be held Friday

This Friday the 28th at Papa Don’s restaurant in downtown Fort Scott from 11:30AM to 1:00PM, the Chamber of Commerce will be hosting the first Fort Scott Area Employer Exchange. The gathering will offer information and discussion regarding “workforce needs, HR issues, employees migrating from employer to employer, state grant/incentive opportunities, job fairs, enticing FS alumni to move back to the area, how to utilize KANSASWORKS and other resources for recruitment and other desired topics,” according to the Chamber.

Costs to attend are set at the following prices:

Chamber members: Free without lunch, $10 with lunch

Non-members: $10 without lunch, $20 with lunch

For those planning to attend, please RSVP at http://fschamber.eventbrite.com or contact Lindsey Madison at fschamber@fortscott.com or by calling 223-3566.

Semis collide on intersection of Main and 23rd streets

Late this morning, two semis collided at the intersection of Main and 23rd street in Fort Scott. City Manager Dave Martin called Bourbon County Emergency Manager Terri Coop to the scene of the accident to assist with the cleanup of a diesel fuel leak from one of the semis.

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The exact cause of the accident has not yet been determined. “KHP is doing a full investigation,” Coop said. As for the fuel spill, Coop said that the state had been contacted, and that fuel spills are so common in motor vehicle accidents that there is a completely set routine for dealing with them.

According to reports, at least one person was hospitalized after the accident.

 

New Aquatic Center impacts local economy

Though the Aquatic Center has certainly been a benefit to residents of Fort Scott with regard to recreation and entertainment, the center has also brought economic benefits to the area. According to Economic Development Business Recruitment and Retention Manager Macy Cullison, the pool has brought a good many visitors to the community. Cullison said, “I think it’s been really good for the area” and that quite a few people came from out of town last year to use the Aquatic Center facilities. Cullison said that the investment in the new pool paid off, and that the pool season last year was “the best in the last 10 years.”

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The pool has seen, according to Cullison, an increase in traffic. She said that in just the first week of pool season last year, the pool saw a daily admission of 245. Attendance remained high, with the average throughout the season hovering around 100-150 visitors per day.

To put the finishing touches on the area around the exterior of the pool area this spring, Rodgers and Sons Concrete has repaired the historic concrete and brick seating built by the WPA in the 1930’s.

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