Federal funding cuts in workforce development have forced the Montana Department of Labor to close seven Job Service offices across the state and make a number of staffing changes, which resulted in the layoff of the Missoula Job Service’s longtime office manager.
Wolf Ametsbichler left the local office late last year and couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment. However, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry in Helena said that staffing changes at the Missoula office wouldn’t affect its level of service.
“These closures have impacted the lives of staff across the state and we recognize how difficult this transition has been for them and their families,” said Jake Troyer, communications director for the state Labor Department. “Due to ongoing federal budget cuts, it’s critical the private and public sector continue to collaborate and determine how services will be provided to build Montana’s workforce.”
While the closures and staffing changes have been hard, Troyer said, the state agency was left with little choice. Federal funds earmarked for workforce development have dropped 55 percent since 2002, from $33 million to just $15 million, and further cuts are expected under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.
Troyer said the loss of funding prompted the department last fall to close offices in Anaconda, Dillon, Livingston, Shelby, Glasgow and Lewistown. When the Hamilton office closed, Ametsbichler worked to transition its services to Missoula and find other training opportunities through Bitterroot College.
Troyer said the office closures and staffing changes didn’t happen without deep consideration for their impacts.
“We’re keenly aware of how these office closures have affected the job seekers and workers in these communities,” Troyer said. “We want to make sure Montanans have continued access to the employment tools and information they need to determine their career pathways to fill our state’s workforce needs.”
Mike Williams, supervisor of the Missoula Job Service, said it’s uncertain if the state plans to fill Ametsbichler’s position as office manager. He said the Missoula office continues to provide support in Hamilton two days a week.
The staffing changes and cuts haven’t impacted the level of service in Missoula, he added.
“We really haven’t changed anything,” said Williams. “We’re just coming to work every day and getting the job done.”