THOUSANDS REAP PROFIT OF WORKFORCE INVESTMENT - The Explorer: Import

THOUSANDS REAP PROFIT OF WORKFORCE INVESTMENT

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Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2003 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:47 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Six thousand people each month walk through the doors of the downtown Pima County One Stop Career Center at 340 N. Commerce Park Loop or the center at 825 E. Fort Lowell Road seeking help in changing their lives.

For most, that help may be simply preparing a resume or searching a list of job openings to match their skills.

For thousands of others, however, it will be a step toward longer term job training or placement assistance, but training for what? And where will the jobs be?

Will those seeking assistance get training or placement in an industry destined to be phased out in a few years or one so glutted by applicants as to make the possibility of being hired a fruitless pursuit?

That's where the Pima County Workforce Investment Board, a 55-member panel appointed by the Board of Supervisors, comes into play, working with private industry and government agency representatives to monitor industry hiring trends, match employer needs with employee skills and assemble diverse resources to develop those skills when no such match exists.

"We try to develop programs that are market driven," said Steve A. Taylor, associate vice president for corporate services with the Greater Tucson Economic Council, chairman of the Workforce Investment Board Executive Committee and owner of the Antique Presidio, 3024 E. Grant Road.

"What we're concerned with as a board is how can we use our funds most effectively," Taylor said during an interview at the downtown One Stop Career Center.

"We don't want to be driven so much by an industry trend that if we provide training for an industry and that industry declines, those skills can't be transferred to another industry that is growing.

"So one of our goals is to provide people with soft skills, transferrable skills, basic technical skills so that if someone is in the information technology field and that industry is in a slump, they have the skills to go into another area, whether it's aerospace or high-tech."

As demands for job services continue to increase, funding pressures are mounting with plans for a federal funding reauthorization that could shift as much as $250 million of the nearly $1 billion budgeted for youth programs nationally toward programs designed to assist out-of-school youths, an obvious problem area in Pima County with a dropout rate in the range of 13 percent.

WIB leaders are hoping the $250 million will be supplemental to the $1 billion so that existing programs won't have to be cut, since a majority of youth program funding is already being targeted toward remedial education in math, reading and writing.

"If the education system was perfect and working correctly and everyone went through it and graduated, you wouldn't need the WIBs," Taylor said.

"But that's not the reality," he said. "You get people dropping out for whatever reason. You get people promoted grade after grade though they're not ready to be. So there are all these structural type processes that aren't working. So all these people are graduating without skills or dropping out and what do you do with them? They're looking for assistance in some way. It's either unemployment or food stamps or hanging around and stealing and what have you.

"So you try and get these people back in the system and give them the skills so they can become employable."

The challenges for youth are becoming even more intensive now with the increase in the elder population entering the work force and passage of the AIMS test as a requirement for high school graduation, WIB leaders agreed.

While WIB members continue to provide opportunities to prepare youths for a lifetime of work, efforts also are being made to do more for the disabled, the rural areas, the more severely impacted areas of Ajo, Avra Valley, Picture Rocks and Marana, as well as removing barriers to jobs, including transportation and child care.

"Workforce Investment Act money is not a large enough sum to sustain all the employment issues, the employment systems and training delivery needs that are needed in this community," Taylor said. "It's just a small piece of the pie."

To ensure that job training and placement efforts aren't overly driven by industry trends, 51 percent of the board's membership is comprised of representatives from private industry. The idea is that those in a particular industry have a better understanding of what trends are developing and what a particular industry's needs are going to be, Taylor said. Exactly half of the Pima County WIB's board are from the private sector now ,but two industry applicants awaiting membership approval would push that to 53 percent.

A Nomination and Public Relations Committee meets once a month to determine what the WIB's composition will be. A new company in town, as an example, might nominate one of its administrators to the board and that nomination would be reviewed by the executive committee and accepted or rejected based on whether a particular industry or cluster is currently being represented.

Board members whose agencies have applied for contracts are prohibited from voting on those contracts to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

The board's diverse makeup provides a system of checks and balances so that funds aren't targeted for training in areas where there are no needs, Taylor said.

Among members of its various committees are representatives from Tucson Medical Center, Ventana Medical Systems, Southwest Gas Corp., the Southern Arizona Labor Council, United Way of Arizona, the Tucson and Marana Unified School Districts, Pima Community College, Job Corps, the city of Tucson Manager's Office, Catholic Community Services, the Pima County school superintendent, the Fred Acosta Job Corps Center and Child and Family Resources Inc.

In the 2001-2002 fiscal year, nearly 28 percent of the One Stop Career Center's job training efforts were directed toward the medical field under the WIB's direction. Next in line were information technology at 26.4 percent; transportation, 16.2 percent; construction trades, 4.5 percent; aerospace, 4 percent; and other areas 21.3 percent.

The Pima County Workforce Investment Board is one of 15 such boards in Arizona representing each of the state's counties. Gila and Pinal counties and Mohave and LaPaz counties have combined Workforce Investment Boards; a separate WIB serves the Navajo Nation, while still another serves the 21 Tribal Nations across the state.

These Workforce Investment Boards are a product of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 that replaced federal Job Training Partnership legislation. Under the earlier legislation, programs focused on the worker but failed to make the link between industry needs and worker training. Pima County's Workforce Investment Board came about when a Private Industry Council decided in 1999 to dissolve in favor of a board with "broad and high-level representation from key local industries, as well as economic and community development stakeholders."

Pima County's WIB funding has fluctuated between $4.1 million and $4.7 million the last two years and is expected to reach $4.75 million next year.

Maria Robinson, administrative assistant at the downtown One Stop Career Center, explained that state allocations are based not only on a county's population, but the number of unemployed within the county. Thus, Yuma, as an example, often receives more money than Pima County based on its higher unemployment rate, despite its lower population.

Under the Workforce Investment Act, training providers are required to track and publish information on how well graduates are prepared for a job. Workforce Investment Boards provide oversight mainly over the money they receive under the act but monitor other funding sources when the WIA money is combined with other state, federal or private grant financing.

On a state level, the Governor's Council on Workforce Policy approves fund distribution formulas for adult and youth programs.

The act demands results from both individuals receiving services and those providing them. It is a system intended to provide flexibility and personal choice and ensures results by requiring that all measures be met, that provides incentive awards for success, provides technical assistance when needed and allows for sanctions when problems occur.

Performances are measured in four basic categories: youths 14 to 18 years old; older youths 19 to 21 years old; adults; dislocated workers; and satisfaction levels for the business participant and the employee.

Standards by which success is measured include the prospective employee's attainment of basic work readiness and occupational skills, the attainment of high school or college diplomas, entry into unsubsidized employment and advancement in pay six months after entering the work force.

Pima County's WIB exceeded expectations in nearly all areas for the 2001-2002 year, the latest report available from the Governor's Council on Workforce Policy.

Addressing various goals in addition to the executive committee are members of a planning committee, Youth Council and Accountability and Performance Committee.

"The greatest challenge we face is that there is so much need and not enough money," Taylor said. "One of the primary needs is due to the fact that there are an awful lot of people out there that aren't finishing high school or they're finishing high school with inadequate skills so that they're not even employable or they don't have the skills necessary to move up the career ladder.

"So a lot of the training we're providing is just bringing these people up in math, reading and writing skills," Taylor said, adding that once gaps are identified more strategic approaches to job placement and training can be developed.

Celina Somoza, One Stop Career Center director, said the local WIB's ties to Pima Community College are especially important because of the need for flexibility, the ability to turn on a dime to change programs that will train people for meaningful jobs in the community when a particular industry falters.

The difficulties faced by the WIB in the current economic decline are illustrated by a placement rate that fell from 79 percent in the 2001-2002 fiscal year to 73 percent in the 2002-2003 fiscal year, as well as by the number of adults served, which fell from 3,067 to 2,993, the number of economically disadvantaged adults served, which plunged from 868 to 525 and the number of laid off workers served, which fell from 1,332 to 1,190.

Among the board's major successes have been in the areas of numbers of youths served, which rose from 4,585 to 4,701; the number of economically disadvantaged youths being helped, which climbed from 450 to 829; and the number of underemployed workers who have upgraded their skills, which rose from 467 to 587, according to statistics provided by the centers.

In an annual report submitted last November by Diane McCarthy, chair of the Governor's Council on Workforce Policy, to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, McCarthy made note of how the Pima County Workforce Investment Board, with the help of the Southern Arizona Institute of Advanced Technology and the Advanced Composite Materials industry cluster, involved more than 250 people in developing a plastics industry training initiative to upgrade or provide entry-level skills for the employment of 42 people in the plastics industry.

Acting as an employer partner with the local WIB, Tucson Medical Center HealthCare, through its subsidized Learn, Earn, Advance and Prosper (LEAP) Welfare to Work and TMC U programs has established models in expanding health care employment, said Emily Jenkins, director of government and community affairs.

Of the 370 employees who have expressed an interest in either entering the health care field or advancing, nearly half are receiving training as certified nursing assistants or patient care technicians. Fourteen others became licensed practical nurses through Workforce Investment Act grants and 10 of those are pursuing higher degrees of nursing through those grants, Jenkins said.

By the fall of next year, from 16 to 25 people will be entering nursing positions that were previously unfilled, and work is underway with the Governor's Office to replicate the LEAP program in other hospitals, Jenkins said.

Ventana Medical Systems in Oro Valley also is partnering with the board and Pima Community College to increase employment in biotechnology programs.

One of the board's approaches to dealing with an economy that has seen local manufacturing jobs decline from 34,000 in January 2001 to 29,000 in March of this year has been the development of rapid response efforts aimed at helping the companies that are closing or laying off workers and assisting the employees of those companies before the layoffs occur. Arizona companies taking advantage of this approach have included Bombardier, an outfitter of private jets, Texas Instruments, HealthNet of Arizona, Kmart, First Data and the mining industry.

NEW CAREERS JUST THE RIGHT MEDICINE

By Bob Svejcara

All John Isaacks needed was a little encouragement to profit from job training assistance provided through the Workforce Investment Act.

After nine years of custodial work at Tucson Medical Center, Isaacks is in his third week of training as a certified nursing assistant with a boost in pay and hopes of advancing to become a patient care technician within the next six months.

Learning disabilities and the frequent moves of his father, a retired Air Force officer, were among obstacles Isaacks has had to overcome, but an outgoing personality and the ability to anticipate the needs of his supervisors as well as patients attracted the attention of TMC's nurses who encouraged him to test for entrance into a program designed to increase the number of TMC employees in health careers.

"My parents really liked the idea of my moving up," said Isaacks. It was the nurses who en-couraged his entry into the Pima Community College classes taught at TMC and supported by Workforce Investment Act funding.

Isaacks is just one of nearly 400 TMC employees who over the last year and a half have expressed an interest in jobs in the health field, said Emily Jenkins, TMC director of government and community affairs. More than half have completed training as certified nursing assistants or patient care technicians, 56 of whom were eligible for Workforce Investment Act assistance. Fourteen others are seeking to become licensed practical nurses through WIA grants, Jenkins said.

Working with the Pima County One Stop Career Centers, TMC's goal is an average living wage of $11 an hour. Many of the hospital's entry-level workers earning from $6.50 to $7 an hour and other employees such as Isaacks whose salary rose from $8.17 an hour in housekeeping to $8.32 an hour in certified nursing assistant training are moving toward that goal through Welfare to Work and youth programs as well, Jenkins said.

If salaries don't rise, funding is cut off.

But Workforce Investment Act funding isn't just for those interested in healthcare care careers.

The following cases taken from audit reports of the Pima County Workforce Investment Board's oversight illustrate One Stop Career Center efforts to deal with the multitude of needs.

Take the case of Terry, as an example. (It's not her real name. Audit reports don't give the names of participants)

With a husband in jail, jobless and with a prison record of her own, Terry had little hope of being able to provide for either herself or her two young daughters until the day she walked into a Pima County Community Services One-Stop Career Center.

She had a poor work history as well, but the one thing she did have was a keen interest in trucking, developed through her brief working experience in her brother's business and her mother's life as a trucker.

Through a program called Project for Homemakers in Arizona Seeking Employment (PHASE), Terry was able to parlay those interests to obtain a commercial driver's license from Southwest Truck Driver Training and an entry-level job at $10 an hour and become certified through another PHASE workshop to perform flagging duties on construction jobs.

She was on her way to a new life.

The PHASE program, housed at the University of Arizona, was created in 1978 to assist women who are divorced, separated or widowed and without any skills to enter the work force. Originally funded by the Arizona Department of Education through gender-equity legislation, Pima County Community Services is the major fund provider today with smaller grants from the Arizona Department of Education and private foundations.

Another beneficiary of the One Stop Career Center programs was Jean, a manufacturing production coordinator with Honeywell in Oro Valley who reaped the rewards of the Workforce Investment Board's rapid response teams, established to address cutbacks by companies in distress. Through one of a myriad of programs offered through the Career Center, Jean was retrained to become a professional medical coding specialist. After completing training and testing, Jean applied for and landed a job as a coordinator for the National Association of Senior friends chapter at Northwest Hospital, a job which provided far more stable career and a good deal more pay than she earned at the time of her layoff.

Betty, a 20-year-old single mother of two, heard about the Workforce Investment Act Youth Programs through the Tucson Urban League. Through the program, she was enrolled in a nonprofit agency to improve her clerical skills and provided educational assistance, childcare support and clothing vouchers. Within a relatively short time, she landed a job paying $9 an hour and was able to move with her children to a new apartment and enroll in Pima Community College where she is majoring in social work.

And, finally, there was the case of the 17-year-old girl whose father had killed her mother and then himself. After entering the Pima County WIA Youth Program she was aided in landing a job with another youth program where she took part in the organization's youth peer support network while finishing high school. After high school she was hired as a student liaison in a mentorship program at $6.50 an hour while attending Pima Community College on a scholarship awarded by her employer.

Three years ago, the Pima County Workforce initiated work on a community-wide, comprehensive workforce development plan that took more than eight months to complete and involved more than 250 individuals and organizations, bringing together all workforce development services, not just those funded through the Workforce Investment Act.

It is a plan that continues to pay dividends for the community.

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