Introduction and Rationale
The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 is intended to: "provide workforce investment activities, through statewide and local workforce investment systems, that increase the employment, retention, and earnings of participants, and increase occupational skill attainment by participants, and, as a result, improve the quality of the workforce, reduce welfare dependency, and enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the Nation."
Throughout the Act there are references to the important role of the business community. For example, a majority of the membership on any state workforce investment board must be business leaders. Similarly, a majority of members of any local workforce investment board must be representatives of businesses in that area. These requirements recognize that businesses are the foundation of economic growth in any state or region.
The primary method of delivering services under WIA is through a system of One-Stop centers that are designed to unify the numerous employment and training programs into a single, customer-friendly set of services and delivery. In the One-Stop system businesses are equal partners to job-seekers and workers. For the One-Stop centers to reach the goals set for them by WIA, it is imperative that the centers join in partnership with businesses to gain both their support and commitment to WIA and to problem solve so as to accrue benefits equally to the business customer as well as the job seeker. It is essential for the One-Stop centers to identify the staff within the centers and system who will provide services to the business community. The goal is to better coordinate, through a single point of entry, business services for the business community and eliminate multiple partners reaching out to business customers for similar purposes.
The State Partners recommend three sets of core services that One-Stops should provide to the business community:
1. Business Assistance
The One-Stop system business staff should provide, coordinate or direct businesses to technical assistance or referrals to community resources with expertise in areas such as: Drug Free Workplace policy development, including Employee Assistance Programs (EAP); conflict management; cultural diversity; sexual harassment prevention; Americans With Disabilities Act, including supportive services in the workplace to enhance retention and productivity; offering prevention programs in the workplace for employees, focusing on life management issues such as stress management, parenting skills, financial issues, and health issues.
Beyond human resource concerns, other technical assistance may help small businesses grow and prosper, thereby retaining current workers and adding new workers. Topics might include: an overview of federal workforce funding steams; managing ownership succession in family-run businesses; developing a business plan; working with government (taxes, regulations, economic development incentives); strategies for recruiting workers from underutilized segments of the labor force and strategies for retraining workers.
A related, fundamental core service is physical space in the One Stop dedicated to businesses. In addition to the obvious service efficiencies that this would create, dedicated business space sends an important message of commitment to meeting business needs such as interviewing potential employees and offering workshops.
Information technology (IT) has become a routine way of doing business in virtually all industries. To be relevant to the business community, One-Stops need to be similarly IT-intensive. This would include use of e-mail by staff, availability of high-speed Internet connections to staff and customers, and the availability of key information (job openings, job seekers, trainers, etc.) in electronic format, preferably searchable from a remote location via the World Wide Web. These activities offer the dual advantages of service efficiency and displaying relevance to the contemporary economy.
One-Stops should be able to provide businesses with customized, targeted workforce recruitment, including assessment and testing services. Employers who are hiring both on a large-scale and on a lesser scale have traditionally valued pre-screening services offered them by the State.
One-Stops will facilitate screening and pre-verification of applicants potentially eligible for a variety of Federal and State Employment Tax Credit Programs, such as:
One-Stops should help build this computerized system by entering information regarding all job openings and job-seekers that come to them, so that employers will have the widest possible selection of qualified job seekers at all skill and experience levels. Staff at the One-Stop centers will facilitate the matching of qualified job applicants to job openings.
2. Training or Training Referrals offered to Job-Seekers and Workers
One-Stops will be most productive at providing training referrals if they have a good understanding of actual business needs. Three types of training are most commonly requested by the private sector:
Perhaps the most serious skill shortage in New York is for workers who can use a computer or operate a machine that is numerically controlled. Computer skills are needed both in industries that produce information technology and in industries that use information technology.
Groups of employers in a given industry or in closely related industries often collaborate to offer training in skills of particular interest to them. This encourages both job retention and career progression. Industry-specific skills training is worthy of public support because it gives workers skills that are portable, transferable from one employer to another.
3. Labor Market Information that local Workforce Investment Boards Must Understand and Incorporate into Service Delivery Decisions
Core business services must incorporate a basic understanding of the state economy, both from the labor demand side and the labor supply side. At a minimum, local WIBs should be familiar with materials on the topics below, so that they can provide meaningful direction to their One-Stops. A greater level of commitment by the State would be to offer training to the local WIBs on these topics.
At this writing, New York's unemployment rate is a very low 4.6 percent, meaning that less than 1 of every 20 New Yorkers is looking for work. Perhaps a much more relevant statistic is the level of under-employment in the State. PF Resources, an independent consultant, has estimated for Empire State Development that New York under-employment is about 1.15 million people, or about 16 percent of the workforce. Explained another way, about 1 in every 6 New Yorkers in the workforce would take a better job if offered by a new employer. These data underscore the need for One-Stops to support the employed job-seeker. In addition, it should be recognized that for many job openings employers will draw on those already employed, not the unemployed. Accordingly, One-Stop services should develop a trading-up strategy that brings the under-employed to better jobs, creating openings for those who remain unemployed. It is also recommended that all local WIBs review the under-employment reports for their region, either through the PF Resources report or through information provided through the local Labor Market Analyst of the NYS Department of Labor's Research & Statistics Division. The PF Resources reports can be requested from ESD's Office for Workforce Development via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Considerable data are available about the types of skills and occupations that are most in demand in New York. One source is a recent report issued by Empire State Development, Building Skilled Workforces for New York's Regional Economies, conducted by Regional Technology Strategies, Inc. The report has the results of numerous employer surveys and interviews that document their most pressing workforce needs. It is recommended that local WIBs review this report. This information can be requested from ESD's Office for Workforce Development via e-mail at email@example.com A second source of information is the occupational demand projections issued by USDOL based on data acquired from each state's Division of Research & Statistics. This data is even more useful when linked to the necessary training that each occupation requires. Researchers at The Urban Institute did just that using national level occupational data, with occupations sorted by required education level. They found a number of occupations in demand that have both relatively high wage potential and that require less than a post-secondary degree.
The NYSDOL Division of Research & Statistics has developed a skills data bank with information derived from a variety of sources including but not limited to recent responses to workforce training initiatives for high technology and manufacturing, and all Strategic Training Alliance Program (STRAP) applications. This skills data bank will be continually updated with information acquired through a variety of sources. Its value to WIBs will be in part dependent on their sharing of information gleaned at the local level, such as those skills upgraded through the use of customized training or OJT project funded by local WIA dollars.
It is recommended that WIBs work with their local Labor Market Analyst (LMA) to access all appropriate and relevant data to assist in identifying skills and occupations in demand in the local labor market (not the local workforce investment area). Local WIBs should also work with their LMA to identify how to present labor market information of all kinds in a user-friendly, accessible format.