Taking Another Whack at Virginia’s Dysfunctional Job Training System

workforceby James A. Bacon

Virginia spent $341 million in government funds in fiscal 2013 on workforce development programs. What did taxpayers get for their money?

There is no way to tell, according to a new Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report, “Virginia’s Workforce Development Programs.” Some of the main findings:

No consistent accounting. Virginia’s workforce development programs appear to spend a high percentage of funds on training rather than administrative overhead — a good thing — but there’s no way to tell for sure. Different programs have different definitions of what constitutes “programs” and what constitutes “administration.

No consistent performance metrics. Virginia programs do not fully measure participants’ success, employee satisfaction or employer satisfaction. Apprenticeship programs do not capture outcomes, such as whether apprentices remain in the industry after program completion or whether they earn higher wages.

Employers don’t use state programs. According to a JLARC survey, only 16% of employers use workforce programs. Employers find them complex, disjointed and difficult to navigate. They are overwhelmed by the number of partners and programs. Instead, they rely upon internal recruitment and training to meet their workforce needs. In many cases, the programs aren’t training skills in demand by employers. In other cases, programs are under-utilized because they are poorly marketed to students and job seekers.

Marginal return on investment. Contract researchers have conducted ROI analysis for several programs and found marginally positive 5- to 10-year returns for Workforce Investment Act programs and a negative return for the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

These findings should come as little surprise given the way the state’s 24 programs are structured and administered. Sixty one percent of the funding comes from federal sources, which means they have strings attached on how the money can be spent. Administration is scattered across nine state agencies, innumerable regional workforce centers, community colleges, high schools and the Virginia Employer commission.

The fragmentation and ineffectiveness of state workforce development programs has been well known for years, if not decades. In 2014 the General Assembly replaced the old, ineffective Virginia Workforce Council with a Board of Workforce Development to advise the governor and legislature on workforce development matters.  This board, which includes representatives from a wide range of stakeholders,  is expected to monitor and oversee state agencies’ development of a common state vision.

However, JLARC says that state agencies continue to operate in silos, committed foremost to their individual agency missions. Moreover, the Workforce Board lacks the legal authority and the dedicated staff to fulfill all of its responsibilities. “The majority of board members are executive-level staff from Virginia businesses who reported that they have limited time to carry out all of the board’s responsibilities, and several board members expressed only vague knowledge of their responsibilities as board members.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The Commonwealth of Virginia probably could save a lot of money with little harm to the workforce simply by shutting these programs down. The state can’t do that — many of the programs are outgrowths of federal initiatives, and someone local has to administer them. But JLARC has the right idea. Let’s at least develop metrics to measure how well they’re working so the state can conduct Return on Investment analysis to prioritize how the $130 million or so in state dollars are spent.

As for reforming giving more power and resources to the Workforce Board, I’m dubious. We’ll return to the same issue four years from now, a new JLARC team will look at the fragmented, ineffective workforce-development system and, seeing how centralized it is, will recommend we decentralize it. The problems are so fundamental, I suspect, they can’t be fixed by redrawing the organization chart.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

10 responses to “Taking Another Whack at Virginia’s Dysfunctional Job Training System

  1. Well I could not agree more but I also think there should be a central agency or some way to reduce overlap and achieve synergy…

    why is this not integrated with economic development and the community colleges (or maybe it is)?

    This also goes back to K12 – and here’s how.

    we KNOW some kids are probably not on a College Track but unlike Germany and other European and Asian nations – we have no real non-college track where the explicit goal is a real job waiting for such high school grads.

    From the 3rd grade on – they should have just as rigorous core academics – on – but tailored to things like auto repair or modern construction skills that are more and more computer-driven.. programming/coding, how to read technical manuals to operate robots and other computer equipment.

    Instead we fiddle and fart around with our approach to kids that are not college-bound… which is congruent to how to we treat them in K-3 if their parents are not college-educated.. and/or economically disadvantaged.

    The union jobs with their apprenticeship training are pretty much gone – but we’ve actually gone backwards – blaming the unions and forgetting what great training they provided – that in turn led to high quality workforce training.

    The same is true of the military – our kids do not get enough core academic training to even qualify for our modern military which requires good reading and writing skills to operate much of their equipment.

    we need to get our butts in gear and do better.

    • I fully agree college is not for everyone. But I also know that, at least in Fairfax County, many parents will not accept the conclusion that their child is not going on to get three degrees. Do we waste money to keep ourselves from accepting reality? I don’t know.

      • it’s not the “conclusion” of parents – it’s what the goals of the school system is in what kind of education they offer for those who end up not going to college.

        what is the school’s approach? in Europe – it’s like picking a major in college. You declare you intentions but they can change and if you change from going to college – it’s not a freefall to nothing – it’s just a change of direction but the same robust academics… as it should be.

        we pre-ordain kids to failure when we don’t make that alternative path just as substantiative academically as college.

        Look at what we do right now to economically disadvantaged kids – .. ALL OF THEM – not just the ones with lazy, unmotivated parents, ALL OF THEM – are PRESUMED to not be deserving of a rigorous academic education…

        and then the same folks who justify it – turn around and whine about economic development.. problems..

        it’s goofy

        the 21st century jobs are not for minimally educated folks – college or not.

        • Larry, strongly disagree on the role of parents. At least in Fairfax County, there is incredible pressure to find all students, most especially white and Asian, as Ivy League material. Toss in the racial and ethnic quota folks and we have a system that may not be designed to best meet the needs of students. I agree with you that schools need to provide strong programs for students that are not going to get BAs, BSs, MAs, MBAs, MDs, JDs, or Ph.Ds. We need skilled plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics for jobs that will demand much, much more than they did 20 years ago. I don’t think many well-educated parents in Fairfax County will accept that for their children, even when a rigorous technical education (non-college prep) is best for their kids. This is Lake Woebegone! Only in our imagination.

          I don’t think the public schools can make up for parents that don’t care a bit about their children’s education. Oh, with some extra support for the schools and teachers, some children will overcome the odds from their home life and do very well academically. But a lot simply will not.

          Education is a social contract. Society provides resources and expects parents and students to take best advantage of them. As a nation, we spend more on K-12 education than most other countries, but don’t produce as good of results as others spending much less. Some of the problem is how we spend the money, as you have explained. But a lot has to do with the failure or inability of many parents & students to do their part by taking full advantage of the resources society provides.

          • ” Larry, strongly disagree on the role of parents. At least in Fairfax County, there is incredible pressure to find all students, most especially white and Asian, as Ivy League material. ”

            that’s wrong. schools are not just for the college-bound

            “Toss in the racial and ethnic quota folks and we have a system that may not be designed to best meet the needs of students. I agree with you that schools need to provide strong programs for students that are not going to get BAs, BSs, MAs, MBAs, MDs, JDs, or Ph.Ds.”

            we agree! good lord!

            “We need skilled plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics for jobs that will demand much, much more than they did 20 years ago. I don’t think many well-educated parents in Fairfax County will accept that for their children, even when a rigorous technical education (non-college prep) is best for their kids. This is Lake Woebegone! Only in our imagination.”

            parents who themselves are not college educated – would be grateful to know there is a excellent chance their kids – not bound for college – are going to have an education that will get them a good job.

            “I don’t think the public schools can make up for parents that don’t care a bit about their children’s education. Oh, with some extra support for the schools and teachers, some children will overcome the odds from their home life and do very well academically. But a lot simply will not.”

            you dismiss the kids own hopes for the future – even if they know they’re not going to college. We send out so many messages to these kids that they’re screwed no matter what. Forget the parents. Give those kids legitimate hope that if they do good academically – it will bring them life rewards.

            “Education is a social contract. Society provides resources and expects parents and students to take best advantage of them.”

            Parents who are no college educated are not able to think and act to help their kids in the ways that kids need it. Folks like you had parents that imbued in you the idea that you were going to college. You need to think about how parents who never went to college – think about this… in a non-blame way. You need to accept the reality that all parents love their kids but some parents are not capable of what is needed for the child to succeed but if that child actually gets real and equal opportunity -many will see it as genuine opportunity and go for it. When you demonstrate to kids that they don’t count as much as the college-bound – they “get it” and they give up.

            “As a nation, we spend more on K-12 education than most other countries, but don’t produce as good of results as others spending much less. Some of the problem is how we spend the money, as you have explained. But a lot has to do with the failure or inability of many parents & students to do their part by taking full advantage of the resources society provides.”

            because we devote too much of it to amenities for the college bound – at direct expense to those that are not from K through 12.

            I’d guarantee you that if you promised kids who got a B average a full-paid college education (or trade school) they’d take it – no matter their parents.

            you fail to understand human nature TMT – even if they are 10-15 years old. They KNOW.. and .. WE – YOU and I – we FAIL those kids when we don’t insist there be a true path for them to take full advantage of the opportunity that an education – can be – and actually IS – in Europe and Japan.

            We suck compared to Europe and Japan not because we have “bad” parents any more or less than them- but because we have perverted our schools into de-facto College Prep schools that ignore the non-college bound.

            we’re always trying to blame someone else – instead of taking some responsibility for the problem. it’s not bad parents why we suck compared to Europe and Asia – it’ s US.

  2. Corporate TRAINING is a farce: corporations don’t want to train anyone. They now expect that prospective employees will get training on their own and resent themselves to the corporations.

    However, I have a suggestion: Let Virginia compensate corporations for employees who fill new positions, as long as the old positions are also filled. If both conditions hold true for 5 years, the corporation receives a credit for 1 year’s worth of the new employee’s salary.

    • well they don’t want to remedially train them – no more than our own military want to.

      But I do agree partially. What they want are people who are smart enough and capable enough to figure out how to solve problems without being the cause of them and yes – it’s a much higher bar than before but corporations are also in competition for human capital and when push comes to shove – they’ll take whatever they have to .

      this is also driving them to computerize and automate more and more processes so they are not subject to (in their view) the whims of poorly trained and poorly motivated employees who get benefits.. and over time become more expensive than they are more productive…

      more and more companies are slimming down to core organizations and contracting out ancillary operations – often to companies who themselves don’t provide benefits and hire independent contractors that get wages only, no FICA.. and no health care.. pension…etc…

      and if you don’t like that – go read Peter’s post on corporations sending pre-written legislation to elected to enact.. or to regulators – to put into force.

      the worker has lost the battle and now is a commodity like a supply of toilet paper or hand soap – … to corporations.

    • You are on the right track NoVaS. However, I think that you specific recommendation could be very expensive.

      I have a similar but less expensive idea.

      Corporations say they must have the ability to bind employees into non-compete clauses because they invest so much in training that it would be unfair to let the employee quit and go work for a competitor. Of course, California has essentially banned these arrangements and it hasn’t seemed to hurt California’s booming technology scene.

      Virginia should allow non-compete clauses to be enforced only by companies which can demonstrate a significant effort and investment in training their employees. Otherwise, the employees are free to go work wherever they choose.

      • one of the problems we have down our way is that we hire teachers, deputies and Fire/EMS – train them – and then they leave for NoVa jobs.

        would you extend your ban to public sector jobs?

  3. Wow, really good report, Jim.

Leave a Reply