Jerri Bowles is leading the state’s effort to use technology to connect Missourians to jobs.
Bowles, manager of the customer service unit at Missouri’s Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, oversees two teams of five to six people who provide customer service each year. to hundreds of Missourians.
Together, they help employers, job seekers and staff at Missouri’s 28 job centers located across the state use the MoJobs system.
“Customer service is something I’ve been passionate about for most of my life – most of all the jobs I’ve had have been customer service related and usually in the low income section and at the level of poverty,” Bowles said. “Knowing that these people usually don’t want government assistance but don’t know how to get out of it, this was the right fit for me.”
Part of his job is to help people who the department says are likely to have more difficulty returning to work. To help, Bowles and her team set up appointments to offer job center services, create a job plan and discuss training opportunities.
Since the pandemic, Bowles said most nominations have been happening virtually, which Missourians and the state seem to appreciate more.
“I was able to show them a path to sustainable employment where they can support their families and find jobs with benefits where they could retire,” she said. “It’s something that brings me so much joy.”
Bowles’ unit also assists the Missouri Division of Job Security by helping people file unemployment claims and weekly payment claims, as well as performing application audits to ensure people receiving unemployment benefits fill out job applications.
The unit’s customer support services also extend to Missouri residents who receive assistance programs, such as food stamps, as they are required to register with the MoJobs system.
Bowles, 45, has worked for the department for five years and lived in Jefferson City for 22 years.
She said she has a deep understanding of the clients she works with regularly because she previously held the same position.
Bowles was unemployed and receiving state benefits in 2016, which meant the state required him to go to a job center. Thanks to this meeting, she got a job at the center and has since held her current management position.
“I actually believe in the program because it works,” Bowles said. “I am a product of that.”
Bowles is also responsible for finding new technologies to help the Office of Workforce Development help more people find sustainable employment.
While operations would typically start to slow down at the Office of Workforce Development around this time of year, Bowles said the search for more technology and tools never stops.
The department recently launched its MoJobs Connect mobile app for Apple and Android. The app has nearly 400 downloads and is part of the MoJobs system that Bowles helps run.
The convenience of virtual and online services has been popular with customers, Bowles said, which has sparked the department’s interest in offering more options.
“Virtual services have been the way things have been for a while,” Bowles said. “The pandemic has forced us and many state agencies to learn how to do things virtually for our customers. We need to meet them where they are. If they want to be served virtually, we need to meet this need.”
Now she is turning her attention to finding an SMS platform that would allow the department to offer customer services via SMS.
Following a pilot during the pandemic, Bowles said the department knows that Missourians respond to text communication more often than cold calls, so that’s an important element to start integrating into the regular offers.
Bowles is also looking at Big Interview, a platform that provides interview manuals for specific types of situations and clients, and allows staff and clients to review recorded interview footage to make improvements.
“It’s a way for someone from their couch to practice those skills,” she said. “They don’t need to make an appointment to come to a job center.”
Its objective is to make the ministry’s services more accessible and easy to use, while keeping costs reasonable for taxpayers.
Bowles said she is constantly looking at new technologies that could be implemented in Missouri to improve the experience for job seekers.
“It pleases me to know that we are making a difference in the lives of our citizens,” Bowles said. “We may be giving them opportunities when they’ve never seen that opportunity before.”