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HR Can Boost Workers' Skills

on Thursday, 28 August 2014 12:38.

Alexandria, VA (Society for Human Resource Management, August 13, 2014):  HR professionals will have increased opportunities to build the skills of their employees under the new, business-friendly federal law revamping workforce training programs, according to experts.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), supported by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and signed into law on July 22, 2014, replaces the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which had been on life support for years. The new legislation was crafted to unsnarl existing training programs and to encourage businesses, educators and community organizations to collaborate more closely to close the country's skills gaps.

The new law "will continue to strengthen the ties between education and industry," said Michael Cartney, president of Lake Area Training Institute (LATI), a small technical school in Watertown, S.D. "A lot of it has been informal. This will help to formalize it."

In addition to giving young people job-ready skills, the law will help businesses enhance the knowledge of existing employees. That's particularly significant given the deep cuts that many employers have made in their training budgets in recent years.

"There is government money on the table for employers," said Alicia Mazzara, a policy advisor in the economic program at Third Way, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

"The law's emphasis on incumbent worker training will help complete the cycle by fostering total career pathways," said Scott Sheely, executive director of the Lancaster County (Pa.) Workforce Investment Board.

Changes in the manner that occupational education is delivered have already begun. There is less emphasis on degree programs and more on shorter learning opportunities that lead to job-specific certifications. In the Lancaster County system, training programs ranging from two to eight weeks can result in certifications that qualify people for vacant jobs in the region, Sheely said. "Job seekers are saying, 'I can't go to school for two years; I have a family to feed,' " he noted.

In addition, companies are offering internships, apprenticeships and other onsite learning, and some businesses are helping to design the curricula for workforce training programs.

For example, an industry advisory council that includes leading local employers gets the final say about the job-related curriculum at LATI before it is rolled out. Training is adjusted on the fly as employers' needs change. And the institute can establish a new degree program needed by industry within a year.

Existing Practice Laid Groundwork

Government regulations and guidance will flesh out the new law, and Congress will have to approve appropriations to make it work as intended. But experts say it is clear that there is a new direction for workforce development after years of fragmented programs and low rates of graduating and employing participants.

"The system today is a holdover from a difficult era that's gone," said Edward Gordon, a workforce education expert and president of Imperial Consulting Corp. in Chicago. "The new law will allow local workforce boards to customize training with business to fill vacant jobs."

That new direction is not just theory. Many innovative training programs have taken root across the U.S. in recent years, despite the limitations of the WIA.

"The organizations doing workforce development right helped lay the groundwork for the WIOA," said Pauline Vernon, director of workforce development for Memphis (Tenn.) Bioworks Foundation, a nonprofit economic development agency. "It's been a long time coming."

The methods and emphases of successful workforce training programs vary substantially.

For example, New York City-based nonprofit Enstitute places young adults in apprenticeships around the country in which they shadow executives in the technology, media and life sciences industries and learn multiple skills. A program offered by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation trains local workers for high-tech jobs typically filled by foreign workers brought to the U.S. under H-1B visas. And the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board crunches data constantly to anticipate and provide the skills that southeastern Pennsylvania manufacturers will need.

These programs were among many highlighted in a July 2014 report, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Workforce Programs, from Third Way. According to the report, successful programs:

  • Engage local businesses actively.
  • Use labor market data.
  • Treat education like a job.
  • Connect people to careers.
  • Support students with services.
  • Tap innovative funding sources.
  • Embrace evaluation.

"There are a lot of successful programs operating on a small scale that can be expanded," said Kane Sarhan, co-founder of Enstitute. "This is the tip of the iceberg."

HR's Role

Getting employers, educators and community organization leaders to work together to match workers with skills has proven to be a slow process in some communities. HR can help foster these collaborations, said Vernon, who chairs the Workforce Development Committee of SHRM—Memphis Chapter 134. The WIOA provides "a great opportunity for HR professionals to get involved," she said.

Angela Hanks, senior federal policy analyst with the National Skills Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating better workforce training, said HR can work with industry sector partnerships "as local areas figure out how to implement this law. There's certainly a role for HR professionals working with other partners in the community."

The WIOA will give workforce training programs more flexibility in the use of various funding streams, experts say.

Measuring the effectiveness of workforce training programs is another key element of the law. Many training providers monitor and assess their effectiveness, but it is difficult to compare the widely disparate training systems around the country.

"We want to be measured and accountable, but we want common measures," said Jim McShane, CEO of workforce services provider CareerSource in the Tallahassee, Fla., area.

Fundamental skills, such as math and reading, and soft skills, such as communicating effectively and working well in teams, will remain essential features of job training programs, experts say.

Closing the skills gap can start with something as simple as a one-on-one conversation, Gordon said. For example, "You have these 10 IT jobs you need to fill. We found 10 individuals out of work." From there, the conversation moves to how the business and educators can transfer specific skills to the job seekers.

Said Vernon: "Companies are pretty happy that there's somebody out there trying to help them."


NAWB Response to The New York Times' Article

on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 15:18.

Please click here to read the letter from the National Association of Workforce Boards, in response to, the NY Times Article "Seeking New Start, Finding Steep Cost", published August 21, 2014.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 12:42.

The New York Times Mixes up Higher Education and Workforce Development

(Washington, DC)(New America Ed Central, August 18, 2014);  Federally-funded job training programs have a reputation problem in the United States, often serving as scapegoats for the very problems they are trying to alleviate – unemployment, skill gaps, and economic insecurity, to name a few. But they've never been held responsible for the student loan crisis. That is, until today, when the New York Times published a lengthy article blaming the public workforce system for historic levels of student indebtedness and the unscrupulous behavior of many for-profit colleges, neither of which fall under the purview of federal workforce development policy.The article, while pointing to some very real and urgent problems in our post-secondary education system, shows just how confusing our education and training policies can be, as higher education and job training programs are increasingly delivered by the same institutions. But, confusion aside, it's important to set the record straight.

Let's start with what the article gets right, which is that our education policies are not doing enough to protect students from low quality providers. Specifically:

• For-profit colleges do provide a large share of programs we might typically think of as "job training", though they are technically higher education programs under the Department of Education, not the Department of Labor, and result in the award of either an educational certificate or an associate or bachelor's degree.

• For-profit colleges charge much higher tuition for these programs – often by factors of three or four times – than do their counterparts at public community and technical colleges. The average cost of an associate's degree program at a for-profit college runs around $14,125, compared to an average of $2,918 at a community college.

• For-profit college and universities are not held accountable in any meaningful way for the employment and earnings outcomes, or debt levels, of their students. (Neither are public colleges or universities, or private non-profits – but that is a topic for another day).

• The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) is the premier federal employment and training program and it was reauthorized last month. The latest iteration of the law, renamed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), includes changes to performance metrics and data collection methods that will support stronger alignment between programs and local labor markets.


Seeking New Start, Finding Steep Cost

on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 12:31.

(New York, NY)(New York Times, August 17, 2014);  When the financial crisis crippled the construction industry seven years ago, Joe DeGrella's contracting company failed, leaving him looking for what he hoped would be the last job he would ever need.

He took each step in line with the advice of the federal government: He met with an unemployment counselor who provided him with a list of job titles the Labor Department determined to be in high demand, he picked from among colleges that offered government-certified job-training courses, and he received a federal retraining grant.

In 2009, Mr. DeGrella, began a course at Daymar College — a for-profit vocational institute in Louisville — to become a cardiology technician. Daymar officials told him he would have a well-paying job within weeks of graduation.

But after about two years of studying cardiovascular physiology and the mechanics of electrocardiograms, Mr. DeGrella, now 57, found himself jobless and $20,000 in debt. He moved into his sister's basement and now works at an AutoZone.

Millions of unemployed Americans like Mr. DeGrella have trained for new careers as part of the Workforce Investment Act, a $3.1 billion federal program that, in an unusual act of bipartisanship, was reauthorized by Congress last month with little public discussion about its effectiveness. Like Mr. DeGrella, many have not found the promised new career.


A More Vigorous U.S. Economy is Emerging

on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 09:36.

(New York, NY)(Associated Press, July 30, 2014); The U.S. economy has rebounded with vigor from a grim start to 2014 and should show renewed strength into next year.

That was the general view of analysts Wednesday after the government estimated that the economy grew at a fast 4 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter. Consumers, businesses and governments joined to fuel the second-quarter expansion. The government also said growth was more robust last year than it had previously estimated.

Whether the healthier expansion will lead the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates sooner than expected is unclear. The Fed will issue a statement later Wednesday after ending a policy meeting.

The economy sprang back to life after a dismal winter in which it shrank at a sharp 2.1 percent annual rate. The government upgraded that figure from a previous estimate of a 2.9 percent drop. But it was still the biggest contraction since early 2009 in the depths of the Great Recession.

Last quarter's bounce-back reinforced analysts' view that the economy's momentum is extending into the second half of the year, when they forecast annual growth of around 3 percent.


Investing in America's Manufacturing Future

on Monday, 25 August 2014 09:22.

(Rockaway, NJ)(Manufacturing Business Technology, August 20, 2014);  Last week, U.S. Senator Chris Coons' (D-Del.) office announced a bipartisan bill designed to help schools strengthen their engineering programs to meet the growing demands of 21st century manufacturing.

The Manufacturing Universities Act of 2014, sponsored by Coons and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), would establish a program within the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) charged with designating 25 schools as 'Manufacturing Universities.' Designated schools would receive $5 million per year for four years to meet specific goals, including focusing engineering programs on manufacturing, building new partnerships with manufacturing firms, growing training opportunities and fostering manufacturing entrepreneurship.

While jobs have been created in the manufacturing sector over the last few years, hundreds of thousands of jobs remain unfilled due to the lack of trained workers. According to Coons:

We need our engineers to fill the growing demand for manufacturing workers and accelerate manufacturing's growth. This bipartisan bill would help us meet that challenge.

If you'll recall, this isn't the first time that the manufacturing sector has received some attention in the national spotlight this year. President Obama's administration began work on the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) initiative which consists of regional hubs designed to accelerate the development and adoptionof cutting-edge manufacturing technologies in order to make new, globally competitive products. Individually and together, these regional hubs will help to strengthen the global competitiveness of existing U.S. manufacturers, spur new ventures, and boost local and state economies.


US Job Growth Tops 200K

on Thursday, 07 August 2014 08:47.

(New York, NY) (Associated Press, August 5, 2014):A sixth straight month of solid 200,000-plus job growth in July reinforced growing evidence that the U.S. economy is accelerating after five years of sluggish expansion.

Employers added 209,000 jobs last month. Though that was fewer than in the previous three months, the economy has now produced an average 244,000 jobs a month since February — the best six-month string in eight years.

At the same time, most economists don't think the pace of job growth is enough to cause the Federal Reserve to speed up its timetable for raising interest rates. Most still think the Fed will start raising rates to ward off inflation around mid-2015.

The Labor Department's jobs report Friday pointed to an economy that has bounced back with force after a grim start to the year and is expected to sustain its strength into 2015. Economists generally expect it to grow at a 3 percent annual rate in the second half of this year after expanding 4 percent in the second quarter. Consumer spending is rising, manufacturing is expanding rapidly and auto sales are up.

"There is no doubt that the economy and the labor market have been strengthening," said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University's Smith School of Business. "People are rejoining the labor force. All these factors point to moderate, but sustained economic growth in 2014."


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WIB Overview

Founded in 1999 as the successor organization to the Lancaster County Private Industry Council, the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board has a mandate through the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to be the lead organization in Lancaster County for workforce planning, to cooperate with State officials in providing business with locally-validated labor market information, and to arrange for a service delivery system that meets the workforce needs of business and the public alike.



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