Building an Effective Workforce Development System

A Long Term Practitioner Policy Agenda

MWA presents the recommendations below as building blocks for a long term vision of a highly effective system. The term "workforce development system," as used here, includes skill training, youth education/employment, and career centers, as well as overlapping with parts of the adult basic education and higher education systems.

Many stakeholders readily agree on many important systemic issues which limit the effectiveness of our workforce development systems:

[A] Our local education and training providers are too often faced with too little stability and funding to provide effective services. This means that while our diverse provider system has the capacity to provide services to those most in need, many programs do not have the resources to do the job right. The solution includes:

  • increase state funding for skill training, youth education and employment, and adult basic education (ABE);
  • continue and increase funding for the state's CBO/Older Worker grant program, now in its first year;
  • provide incentives for more programs to integrate education and training services -- so they can better serve applicants with a wide range of labor market skills and barriers;
  • increase the availability of longer term services -- to significantly improve the employment skills of those most marginalized from the labor market;
  • make multi-year group contracts the norm across the system (as they are in ABE) -- in order to stabilize education and training programs.

[B] Our Career Centers face a universal, but underfunded, mandate. As a result, many jobseekers and employers are dissatisfied with Career Centers, and those most in need are too often not served. The solution includes:

  • increase state funding for Career Centers;
  • return responsibility for jobseeker intake and assessment to education and training providers -- which are better situated for the broad based outreach required;
  • mandate consistent procedures for training vouchers -- in order to increase access and timeliness at all Career Centers;
  • mandate practical links and communications between Career Centers and education and training programs -- to build effective pipelines at the local level;
  • increase access for linguistic minorities, older youth, and incumbent workers to employment and training services through Career Centers.

[C] Current public policies too often provide disincentives to serve those who need education and training services the most6. Thus, public workforce development programs do not have adequate resources to close the income and skills divide nor reduce the extreme lack of labor market participation in some communities. The solution includes:

  • increase monetary incentives and modify performance standards to provide more support to programs which serve those most in need of public services;
  • fund and coordinate the wrap-around and support services (e.g., counseling) required for hard-to-serve participants to succeed;
  • reward implementation of a service continuum which meets participants where they are and takes them towards their workforce goals;
  • prioritize resources to increase access to entry level jobs and mobility to second level jobs through career ladders;
  • set out-of-poverty goals as a top priority for all education and training providers, Career Centers, Workforce Investment Boards, and other system stakeholders;
  • ensure that each low income participant in the public workforce development system has a career plan which includes the steps and skills required for that person and their family to move out of poverty.

[D] We currently have a fragmented system with 15+ state agencies, made worse by regional systems with too few centrally guided policies and practices. This means that we do not yet have a workforce development system, and implementation of federal and state policy is far too often inconsistent across the state. The solution includes:

  • operate a system which is clearly organized and stable at a state level, centrally guided and locally implemented at the regional level, and competitive, diverse, locally based, and collaborative7 at the local service delivery level. (The Department of Education and ABE providers have developed useful models in this regard.);
  • ensure that minimum performance requirements do not become the highest level performance sought, in part by providing new and substantial incentives to reward program success, in addition to penalties for program failure;
  • adopt the model used by the state Department of Education programs of allocating a set percentage of ABE funds to professional development, training, and technical assistance for service providers;
  • increase the percentage of staff working full-time in workforce development programs.

[E] Most public workforce development services are underfunded. Current state and federal programs often serve about 5% of those eligible, particularly for skill training and youth education/employment services. This shortfall worsens the labor market challenges facing Massachusetts -- with jobs leaving our state and a lack of skilled workers. The solution includes setting a ten year goal of an additional $100,000,000 for skill training, youth education/ employment, and adult basic education services and:

  • identifying new and alternative funding sources dedicated solely to education and training services, such as:
  • devoting a small percentage of state lottery funds to the workforce development system;
  • new initiatives to access federal matching and incentive funds, such as drawing down federal food stamp funds to pay for additional skill training services;
  • increased state and federal TANF funds dedicated to education and training from our current 1% to the national average of 12%;
  • increased WIA funds dedicated to education and training.
  • establishing statutory mandates that:
  • at least 90% of new funds available to provide skill training and youth education/employment services be expended to provide services for low income and low wage residents;
  • funds be dispersed through group contracts which are competitively procured and provided by experienced not for profit and public providers;
  • state and local authorities maintain current efforts so that existing education and training funds are not reallocated to other uses.

Make Massachusetts THE education & training state!

(March, 2005)

1. See New Skills for a New Economy: Adult Education's Role in Sustaining Economic Growth and Expanding Opportunity, MassINC, Boston, 2002.

2. Projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, as cited in Impending Crisis, Roger Herman et al, Oakhill Press, Winchester, Virginia, 2003.

3. See Skilling the American Workforce "On the Cheap": Ongoing Shortfalls in Federal Funding in Workforce Development, The Workforce Alliance, Washington, 2003.

4. CLASP Annual Report on State TANF Data.

5. See State by State WIA Program Participation Data, PY 2001, Center for Law and Social Policy, Washington, 2003.

6. We refer here to, for example, WIA Performance Standards which reward service providers that most quickly make job placements at the highest wages (meaning that those with least skills are less desired participants in under-funded programs).

7. For an explanation of the value of these four characteristics of a service delivery system, see Workforce Development