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A NEW EMPLOYMENT DEVELOPMENT PARADIGM

The New Paradigm and Workforce Issues. (2009, historical but applicable in 2017)

The “Workforce” can no longer afford to change locations and residences to “follow the jobs” as in earlier times. The costs and associated headaches with moving, especially with a family, have grown too much for the average American. Statistics show Americans becoming more and more attached to their locations, even sedentary. Therefore, without viable relocation programs to assist the workforce, there will be changing areas where a larger skilled workforce is needed, but unavailable, while other areas are plagued by a lack of jobs.

One of the main themes of the newly proposed “theory” for service provider integration, specifically for WIA and EDD, is that inter-office integration of staff and objectives can be realized. This proposal contains a number of issues that remain to be solved. How can “integration” take place with two entities doing the same work where two differing pay scales and inter-office management procedures are being observed? As the present entities exist, this is not an equitable realignment—nor does it represent a “sharing of work” that will benefit job seekers or workforce development. The current primary responsibility of EDD, despite their claims to the contrary, is the untenable management of the UI system. The concept that there can be an equitable sharing of responsibilities assumes that the entities perform similar, and redundant, functions. This is not the case. WIA programs bear no resemblance to the main work in which EDD is engaged. Promises to effectively address outdated and, in some areas, non-existent MIS data bases, eliminate follow-up, exits, and other performance measures are the carrot put forward to capture WIA organizational support for the proposed changes. This seems a flagrant attempt by the EDD– overburdened, understaffed, and desperate to preserve highly paid positions, to acquire assistance with workforce development—an area they can only superficially address due to the constant necessity of tending to their lumbering giant, Unemployment Insurance. In our office we have basically 2 EDD staff on premise most of the time. They are up to their ears advocating for Lake County citizens being run roughshod over by an inefficient, heartless, and often incompetent central state unemployment insurance system. Their claim to be a business services partner is backed by only a superficial relationship with local employers. Where would they get the time to assist with any WIA issues? In this case—the proposed integration is merely a ploy to gain additional EDD staff and obscure their failure in workforce development. In the recent propaganda session; when the fact that WIA personnel were already helping in some one-stops with Cal Jobs sign-ups and resumes was mentioned, this was put forward as an example of the benefit to the client of this “integration” of partners, yet no example was given as to how EDD would, or could, reciprocate.

In addition, the model proposed, though flooded with platitudes about “serving the interests of our workforce citizenry”, basically reflects the failed social engineering attitudes of social service theorists with too much time on their hands and not enough contact with rural Northern California county workforce specialists who know the issues. The push to include additional assessments, trainings, and education programs might be valuable to clients if there were indeed a job seeker demand for such programs—or if the resources and staff available to implement them truly existed. However, the idea of electronic presentations and self-serve computer training and education, though feasible five to ten years hence, is, in reality, failing to take into account the still sizable number of clients who are ignorant of computer basics or who find them repugnant. Additionally the whole issue of the nature of the element of motivation within the workforce has been over-generalized. For instance, EDD has gone to great lengths to insure that its UI participants are interested, motivated, and attempting to find work. The reality in today’s work climate is that many UI participants see unemployment insurance as a paid vacation and only those whose benefits are in danger of expiring, or are insufficient, or who are simply unhappy if they’re not working, seek employment. Additionally, since the WIA program is voluntary, one should probably assess the interests of clients in additional training and remediation programs before significant resources are allocated and reorganization of services implemented. Simply providing them may satisfy the federal and state theorists enamored with grandiose schemes of instantly upgrading the talent and skill pool in local workforce communities, however long-time employment counselors are aware that only a minimal interest exists for such “upgrades” and educators understand that only cursory improvements can be made given the time and resources allocated to such training and remediation’s. If theorists are sincerely interested in upgrading the educational and employment skills of the average American citizen their time would be better spent lobbying for better education programs K-12. Though a smattering of job seekers with sufficient time on their hands might benefit from assessments and specific short-term job-related trainings, most would prefer to simply and immediately be placed in a job. Any job. Though retention and longevity is a factor in the overall economy, these determinations are more affected by changes in the economic markets, new and revolutionary technologies being developed, and unforeseen changes in the global employment outlook, than by any realistically addressable issues within the workforce. Indeed, a large portion of job seekers are uninterested in the “process” of finding a job and their participation and motivation to improve their abilities, no matter how important it might be to their job search success, is limited. Certainly education must be provided to educate workers that job hunting is a skill that should be developed—but convincing the large and soon-to-be overwhelming number of “senior” workers looking for a job will be a daunting task indeed.

The phrase—”demand driven” preceded any other verbiage in the new paradigm yet there appeared to be no significant commitment to realign the programs to serve business development models that take a top-down approach to workforce development. Rather the “new” theory touted once again the stale and obsolete models of programs to remediate and retrain workers in areas and subjects totally unrelated to the specific needs of individual local employers. Though it was put forward that there would be some project group that would contact employers to determine what local employment “demands” exist, there has obviously been no planning as to how this would be accomplished. Questions elicited vague plans for inter-county “circuit riders” to perform this function, or it was thrown back on local WIB’s or Supervisors, to develop and oversee such employer workforce outreach.

Part of the problem with the evolution of these new “paradigms” to realistically address workforce issues seems to be the “head-in-the-sand” position of top-level planners in understanding the ever-changing, unpredictable and revolutionary re-orientation of future employment trends. What that means for local rural communities is significantly different than what it means for urban areas. Separate and distinct plans must be put forward in regard to serving the interests of these two entirely different employment scenarios. Generalization and broad-scope projects needs to be scrapped for intensive and specifically targeted local planning. Informal and trusting relationships between workforce development agencies and local business has proved to be infinitely more efficient at serving the interests of the common job seeker than any programs that seek to reshape the worker or force them into draining, faceless and seemingly endless and unfruitful hunt-and-peck efforts to find employment.

Overview

Current approaches to workforce development seem to revolve around two distinct approaches to job placement. One begins with the needs of the client, their attributes, and interests and focuses on a hunt and peck method of discovery largely dependent on job orders, job banks and internet searches, along with the traditional word-of-mouth approach. This method seems to have been proved inferior to the business-first model, which identifies, through previously developed employer relationships, employer needs and strategies relating to identifying, and hiring, qualified employees. It takes into account all of the factors which ultimately result in successful or unsuccessful placements. This benefits potential employees by removing many of the unknown factors which affect employability and saves them from the embarrassment and or emotional distress of applying for positions unsuitable to their aptitudes, interests or personal characteristics.

The business-first, or top down model, relies on a workforce development agency establishing a viable community identity, establishing trust between itself and local employers by providing necessary and needed business-related services and timely, reliable employee referrals. The most successful employee development offices seem to be those which have separated themselves from other entities, both in location and in identity. These offices are able to institute “at-the-door” capturing of job seekers, largely because those participants are well aware of the single-minded purpose of the office and are not distracted, confused, or burnt-out by dealing with the myriad of agencies located in a typical one-stop setting.

The ability to immediately control the gathering of necessary documentation and benefit from the focused intent of clients in a single purpose location is a tremendous advantage over co-located offices. The inevitable disassociative, and almost resentful, attitudes of clients dealing with social service or state & federal agencies burdened by time-consuming bureaucratic processes places a larger burden on voluntary participatory organizations (WIA programs) to reliably inform, capture, and serve its clients in an efficient and humane manner.

Since many of these cooperative partner organizations have similar mission statements and service plans, and despite the assertion that they serve different client bases, the confusion that inevitably faces a client in dealing with a multiple-faced office environment, plays a large factor in affecting their endurance for dealing with simultaneous multiple issues in a single office. As an example, a long-term employed client who comes in to file an unemployment claim for the first time is directed to fill out the forms, file with Cal Jobs on a computer (which they may or may not be familiar with), try to reach the State Office to file by phone (often unsuccessfully) and get any miscellaneous directions from EDD. Invariably, at the end of this arduous process, they feel overwhelmed and virtually exhausted by the time they reach the desk of a WIA representative. Very often, they perceive the WIA counselor to be a simple extension of the EDD and have little patience to run through the additional gamut of the gathering of right to work documentation, program application, nepotism and grievance forms, and agency releases necessary for simple WIA core-B service. The truth is, that the presence of UI offices co-located with workforce development agencies is the biggest hindrance to those agencies effectively meeting their mission statement goals,

Additionally, without those forms, the WIA entity cannot effectively capture the numbers of those individuals who self-direct in the self-help area or who gain employment with only the cursory help of a WIA counselor. An added problem is the burden placed on counselors sympathetic to the plight of these worn-out, and often desperate job-seekers, who feel the necessity to provide some service whether the mandatory documentation for service has been collected or not. Very often counselors will respond to the immediate needs of the clients and begin resume development, job search or other core-B services with little or no guarantee that the client will return for a follow-up appointment, provide the necessary documentation needed, or commit to the regular contact schedule called for under program guidelines. Even though counselors are directed specifically not to extend these services, the human inclination to provide service is hard to resist in light of the emotional and financial stresses that clients exhibit.

The Lake County, CA., WIA office spent considerable time and effort examining and discussing solutions to these problems. We are in agreement that the business-development model is by far superior to that of the client specific model. Short of being able to establish our own stand-alone office for support of the Lake County business community and citizen workforce, we have searched for an approach that can improve our placement numbers, enhance our service to clients and improve the efficiency of our limited staff. Our director has been innovative and supportive in considering the ideas of the counselors and managers working within the program. These ideas have facilitated a change, not only in the physical layout and orientation of our offices to approximate a separate identity, but also in proposed documentation, record-keeping and financial operations within the office.

One of the first changes proposed was to accomplish a more efficient system of screening applicants for our services from the outset. Continued education for the resource specialist at the front desk is a primary necessity for that improvement. In essence, our receptionist will have a more thorough knowledge of the program and the initial elements necessary for eligibility and enrollment; particularly the importance of gathering I9/right to work documentation as a necessary component to facilitating a client/counselor interview. Of course, the gathering of this type of documentation and the completion of a “source signature” application for service, should include—in the least intrusive and most efficient way possible—the nepotism/grievance notification/acknowledgement as well as the basic understanding of, and agreement to, a continuing contact schedule and an understanding of the need for additional agency releases should additional services be pursued.

To accomplish this goal, Lahas proposed creating, a consolidated “source signature” application form that, together with valid right to work documentation, will be sufficient to capture clients who return to work without seeking additional services or providing additional documentation. Of course, the optimum method of “capturing” all the clients utilizing the WIA “self help” area would be to require right to work and source signature applications from everyone entering the office. However, this does not seem a viable proposition when sharing an office with EDD, since that agency views itself as the lead component in receiving and processing job orders from businesses, establishing a client resume data bank, and providing the lead job placement service for the community. Indeed, EDD seems to prefer that the WIA program be identified primarily as a “last resort” training program for clients unable to find work through the EDD system. This is a large stumbling block to the success of any individual agency seeking to establish an identity as a business-friendly, workforce development entity. Nevertheless, it appears that this will not change and our “self help” clients who successfully utilize WIA computers and materials to successfully self direct their employment searches will continue to fail to show up in our statistical evaluations by State and Federal program monitors.

A second important change that was suggested was a financial operations restructuring that allows our office to be more responsive to the immediate needs of our clients and have a greater awareness of our current fiscal status for program planning and office management.

An ongoing concern for achieving favorable statistical numbers, developing rapport and trusting relationships with local business, and successfully serving our clientele in the least imposing and bureaucratic way possible is an important element in our strategy to continually increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our limited staff. Time-saving adaptations and paperwork reduction is a necessary component of achieving these successes. Operating in the absence of an efficient MIS database system, we are effectively trying to navigate the waters of a 21st century waterway in a 1950’s canoe. Paperwork is redundant and overburdened with cumbersome information requirements unrelated to program objectives and verification needs. The entire system needs to be re-examined, re-written, and re-designed with program efficiency and paperwork reduction in mind.

In our discussions with other WIA agencies, we find that State & Federal Monitors are supportive of these type of reductions and prefer reduced and streamlined paperwork systems rather than subscribing to “the more, the better” when it comes to verification information and documentation that surpasses minimum requirements.

It is our hope that in lieu of a system-wide database, each satellite office will be allowed to adopt any similarly useful system deemed acceptable to accomplish immediate improvement in paperwork management and record-keeping. This is the only way that short-staffed offices will effectively cope with high volumes of clients and still pursue a business model reorientation to better serve our community’s workforce and business development needs. The State has been promising systems for more than a decade and other MIS management projects have either failed or been abandoned. Delaying the implementation of a viable system for “pie in the sky”, “down the road”, unrealized projected plans is more a delay of responsible management than a prudent plan for the future. Staffing problems and fiscal restraints are unpredictable and may get worse before they improve. Any efforts to aide case managers in time management and performance increases the program’s efficiency, numbers and service success.

Finally we should ask what might be the best possible method for accomplishing the mission and purpose of our activities—namely serving both the workforce and the business community. Rather than having one large clearinghouse that combines employers and the entire local pool of job candidates, in our community, there are a myriad of organizations clamoring for the attention of businesses and serving, through individual case management, various differing groups of candidates in an almost proprietary manner. In order to maintain funding levels and continue as employment vehicles for their staff, their candidate lists are kept close to the vest and few of these organizations liaison in any effective way, if at all. This is a method which guarantees the least effective success and efficiency in developing workforce solutions.

A workable solution is not in sight as long as the entire pool is unavailable to job developers and businesses alike. No one agency can hope to have enough in their pool to guarantee the numbers of referrals and placement businesses need. The result is that businesses tire of slogging through poorly constructed and presented on-line resume lists, and are disappointed when they do call agencies and are not rewarded with the numbers or referrals they need. Only access to the entire County pool (and perhaps beyond) could rebuild employer confidence in job referral agencies. Typically, this would best be accomplished by one agency or organization but that seems a hard sell with so many agencies supporting staff and organizations independently, with funding sources specifically targeted at special groups of job candidates rather than the whole pool as a conglomerate.

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James BlueWolf

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