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John Florez: Workforce Services should focus on workforce development

Published: Saturday, Sept. 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

A woman looks over job listings on a computer at the State of Utah Department of Workforce Services office in Brigham City, Utah May 5, 2009.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News archives

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In 1992, Gov. Mike Leavitt's transition team was presented with a white paper that would restructure the existing Utah Department of Employment Service to respond to a changing global economy. It later became the basis for the legislation that created the Department of Workforce Services in 1997.

Twenty years later, while the structure of the department has changed, some of the problems found in a December 1992 legislative audit seem to persist.

The paper proposed a policy for a new department that would educate and train workers for world-class standards with one integrated system. It called for a new education, training and employment policy that included skill upgrading for the majority of workers, rather than a targeted few. It started with the preparation of our youth in school and a school-to-work transition program; skills upgrading and retraining for our adult workers; labor market information and exchange; job placement and counseling; income maintenance for the unemployed; and assistance to employers in retooling their work organization to compete in the high performance economy. It recommended the education, training and employment subsystems become one continuous network.

Many of the white paper's recommendations were based on the findings of a 1992 legislative audit that found several critical problems including an absence of comparable performance data (performance standards) by which policy makers could evaluate the effectiveness of programs. Many programs provided management information systems that gave plenty of descriptive data but "little of it can be used to demonstrate how effective each program is in helping people get and maintain quality jobs." In short, agencies reported on process, not results!

The audit found inefficiencies, but perhaps the most pernicious aspect of the system was that little concern was given to how people who needed help the most become the victims of bureaucratic barriers — to say nothing of the taxpayer who must pay for the system.

The audit also found a significant portion of program funds were spent to cover salaries for staff that provided "case management services" rather than for tuition, books and other fees helping clients become self-sufficient. It cited one example where one service area spent 74 percent of its funds on salaries and administrative costs and 27 percent on supportive services to clients: "Some clients become frustrated and dropped out of their training program because their needs, such as child care, transportation or school fees are either not covered or must be obtained from some other agency."

In addition, the audit found there was a narrow focus on targeted groups. The training programs primarily focused on the disadvantaged "rather than building a system to meet the needs of employers as well." The white paper proposed that to build a competitive workforce attention must be given to all job seekers and those in need of retraining — that high performance work organizations of today and tomorrow will require such focus.

Workforce Services must play a critical role in solving the problems of poverty now mounting because of a struggling economy and the mismatch of skills needed for the new global economy. Lawmakers must renew and monitor the department for outcomes rather than process and not lose sight of its critical role in helping individuals gain living wage jobs.

DWS should focus on its core purpose of preparing Utahns with the skills needed for the new economy, with lawmakers returning the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to the Department of Human Services whose core mission is to assist families to become self sufficient and the healthy development of infants and children.

Our elected leaders should renew their efforts in promoting public policies consistent with our cherished values with compassion.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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