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Workforce Investment Act Boards Displeased

Workforce Investment Act Boards Displeased
With Community College Training

By Charles Pekow

Most local workforce boards are complaining that they can’t judge how well training providers are doing. And most also gripe that community colleges only provide training through the academic calendar — which doesn’t fit the needs of many participants in Workforce Investment Act programs.

Local boards used about $929 million for training in 2003, training about 416,000 dislocated workers and other adults, the Government Accountability Office estimates. GAO conducted Internet surveys of all 590 local workforce investment boards about training, receiving 428 replies. The agency presented the results in a recent report, “Workforce Investment Act: Substantial Funds Are Used for Training, but Little Is Known Nationally About Training Outcomes.”

GAO reports that 65 percent of boards said they couldn’t figure out how well eligible trainers were doing. “A local board in Missouri noted that one of the greatest challenges lies in not having reliable information regarding the quality and relevance of the training being offered by training providers,” the report states. Boards in California and Iowa (the report didn’t name individual boards) lamented that their states don’t keep performance data on trainers.

And 60 percent complained about timing. A board in Iowa, for instance, stated that because schools only offered training on a regular academic schedule, “some participants who have to wait too long for a training program to begin may have their unemployment insurance benefits run out before the training can be completed.”

But some boards innovated to get around this problem. One in Washington state bought group training to meet participants’ needs rather than rely on schools’ schedules. A Maryland board worked closely with local community colleges to schedule occupational training outside the normal academic term.

And it seems boards can’t easily find new trainers — the same problem GAO found four years ago. More than half the respondents — 54 percent — said adding schools to their Eligible Training Provider List proved difficult. Many schools don’t want to go through the lengthy data collection process required for WIA participation. In light of that, the Department of Labor has approved waivers for 30 states, mainly giving them more time to gather information.

But GAO noted that “getting training providers, particularly community colleges, to participate in the ETPL remains a concern for some local boards.” Many complained that “some providers, community colleges in particular, are reluctant to participate in the ETPL.” One in California, for instance, stated that local community colleges operate at full capacity and don’t need WIA.

To get around this problem, boards in Massachusetts have been working together to talk to community college leaders. GAO doesn’t state how successful the efforts have been.

And 52 percent of boards said their individual training accounts didn’t coordinate with local economic and business development strategies. One in California, for example, said it wanted to train participants to meet a local nursing shortage, but some area community colleges didn’t want to teach nursing because it was too costly.

But again, some boards tried to get around the mismatch — one in Michigan works with a community college to develop short-term intensive noncredit certificate training in high-demand fields.

Some rural boards said they simply couldn’t find enough local providers. To get around this problem, one in rural California got a waiver from using ITAs and contracts directly with a community college for several nursing programs. As of last year, all 73 participants had graduated and found work as nurses.

As to the training quality problem, the Department of Labor is working on an evaluation. States — and even communities within states — define inputs and outcomes differently, making nationwide results difficult. Some define the date of case closures differently, for instance, as either the end of services or three months later if no further services are scheduled.

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