Bring the jobs up here

photo by JD Hancock

 “I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity…have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help that they need. It is time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.” — Barack Obama

 America’s made considerable progress toward improving its complex workforce development program. Last year the new federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) passed both houses of Congress by substantial margins in a bipartisan vote after two years of negotiations. The president promptly signed the bill into law. It will go into effect this July 1. The specific rules which will govern it are yet to be published.

The reviews of the revised system have for the most part been positive. The federal law will bring improved workforce development, better access and more useful training. It will also authorize more money; virtually all the funding cut out of the predecessor program in recent years by a dissatisfied Congress will be restored.

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Expectations, however, need to be realistic. Locally, the Ulster Works OneStop Job Center (“where businesses find workers and workers find jobs”) provides a variety of resources to jobseekers. But it’s not a be-all, solve-all solution for a rapidly changing technological society with a profound mismatch between workers’ skills and employers’ needs. Looking for a better job? The system is likely to be of great help if the job you’re looking for appears on the list of occupations for which the state labor department has predicted employer demand. Otherwise, not so much.

The WIOA rollout is under way. On July 22, state governments are schedule to publish information about training providers and partnerships. On January 22 of next year final rules go into effect. On March 3, 2016 the state plans will be promulgated. The state level is expected to send more funds to the local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) such as that in Ulster County.

“July 2016 is when the rubber hits the road,” Melinda Mack, executive director of the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals (Nyatep), recently told a special meeting of the Ulster County WIB. The WIBs will have added responsibilities under the legislation, Mack said. It’ll be a better system. There will be more coordination among providers, more development of career pathways, more leveraging, more accessibility for the handicapped.

Describing the structural changes specified in the new legislation, Mack conceded that she didn’t know what some parts of the new law would mean. But the direction seemed clear. “We’re all in this together,” she said. “Our performance is tied to each other’s success.” On the other hand, she warned, “the partnerships have to be real.”

Melinda Mack, who is not without a sense of humor, acknowledged the potential mismatch between employer needs and workforce skills, characterizing the process in an aside as “train and pray.”

In a conversation after the WIB meeting, the argument was made to her that in Ulster County the new generation’s skills seemed to be changing faster than the existing jobs available to them were changing. Mack agreed.

Well, she was asked, what’s the solution? Should all the kids move to New York City, where there seemed in some places a better match between needs and skills?

Mack didn’t hesitate. “Bring the jobs up here,” she said.

And that indeed might well be the five-word summary of the Hudson Valley’s transformative strategy for the next decade.

Two of the 15 goals promulgated in the state’s Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development strategic plan are directly related to the worlds of education and training.

The first is “to enhance the region’s talent pipeline through its colleges and universities, One-Stop Career Centers, BOCES, school systems, public libraries and library systems, and childcare system.” That’s the supply side. Without a “talent pipeline” economic development will falter.

But there’s also has to be a demand side. Without a job-creating supply side, the pipeline won’t have a destination. The other relevant goal is “to promote entrepreneurship, start-ups, and small businesses through a variety of measures that will make it easier to access public- and private-sector resources for access to capital, workforce training, and business and technical consulting.”

Despite considerable economic progress on other fronts, the mid-Hudson region is not creating jobs. Between January of last year and January of 2015, the number of employed persons in Ulster County dropped by 300. In Dutchess County it dropped by 1500 and in Orange County by 800. In the seven counties defined as mid-Hudson by Empire State Development, employment dropped by more than two per cent. That’s not good. The widely hoped-for spread of the booming New York City economy (which gained 92,300 jobs last year) to nearby Long Island and the Hudson Valley has not been happening.

 The 2015 Ulster County budget forecasts an expenditure of $877,742 this year for actual job training and services by the county office of employment and training. It also lists an almost equivalent amount, $875,042, for nine reasonably paid and generously benefited county jobs, including that of department head Lisa Berger. The office doesn’t cost the county government anything. The federal and state governments pay the entire tab.

The county office must respond to federal reporting requirements. Federal money always brings with it onerous and time-consuming paperwork.

Under the one-stop concept, the state labor department maintains space next to the county department in the Business Resource Center on Ulster Avenue in the Town of Ulster. The phone directory of the state’s division of employment services lists 16 local employees.

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