One of the most critical factors in the state economy is the skill level of the state’s workforce. And a major change has recently been instituted to increase the effectiveness of the training program by enhancing accountability.
“All of that is in the process of dramatic change right now,” said Jason Pugh, associate executive director for workforce, career and technical education, State Board for Community and Junior College. “For the past fiscal year, and fiscal years prior to that, we have always reported to the legislature with what we refer to as the Legislative accountability report. What we reported out were things like the number of trainees, the number of businesses served and information from a small business survey at the end of the training that asks them how the training assisted them.”
Now the State Workforce Investment Board has instituted the Mississippi Integrated Performance System. That collects workforce training data in all the entities in the state that do workforce training.
“They take all that data and do things such as determine the average or increased earnings of individuals who have undergone training, the retention rate on the job after training and the number of folks who were unemployed but are now employed after that training,” Pugh said. “Beginning July 1, we started utilizing the Integrated Performance System as our accountability and performance system for all of the community colleges. It is going to help Mississippi be competitive all around because what we are able to produce is a scorecard on workforce training for the state. The better we are able to do on the scorecard, the more advantageous it is to attract new business and industry to state, and to attract federal funds into the state. It should be a good thing for us. We have always done a good job, and we hope to do ever better.”
New system advantages
Pugh said there are several advantages to the new system. It brings coherency to reporting because everyone is reporting based on the same indicators. It brings state indicators more inline with indicators for several different federal agencies. And it is a very valid process because it cross references training data to data kept by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, which makes it non-self-reported data, making it more valid.
In past years, it could sometimes be difficult to keep track of what was going on because there were a number of different programs for workforce training and separate state and federal workforce boards. Now, the State Workforce Investment Board is consolidated so the state and federal systems are working together more closely than ever in the past.
“It helps to eliminate redundancy of services,” Pugh said.
Larry Otis, the former mayor of Tupelo who is chairperson for the accountability committee on the State Workforce Investment Board, said the integrated performance evaluation system allows them to track any student who goes through training program in Mississippi whether in a community college or any other sponsored program.
“We are then able to gauge from that the effectiveness of training — whether students increase income or move to a better job,” Otis said. “We can track that. We are very impressed with the results we are seeing, particularly with reports coming in from WIN Job Centers and community centers. They are going excellent work in getting them qualified and into jobs, and then the people are able to retain the jobs in most cases. We follow the students to see if job retention holds through the years.”
Accountability boosts benefits
Otis said the quality of the state’s workforce is vital, so increasing accountability for workforce training has major benefits.
“We have to make sure the dollars we are spending are spent as effectively as we can,” Otis said. “We have a lower educated workforce with a high percentage of high school dropouts. We have to educate those people in training programs to get them qualified to fit into the new jobs. Our whole state economy is changing. Manufacturing is always going to be important. We hope we will always hold our own in manufacturing. But we have to train people for the more technical jobs that are coming into our state.”
Another major component of accountability for the training programs is that there are four workforce boards set up in the state that are made up of business and industry leaders who provide real world grounding for guiding the programs.
“Our board has 62 members, and a majority of them are private business people,” said Clark Castell, Workforce Investment Act (WIA) director for the Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which is the fiscal and administrative agency for the Mississippi Partnership Investment Board, Pontotoc. “The purpose of that board is to direct workforce training needs to what they see as the needs of business and industry out there. The board makes recommendations on those programs. Our boards not only approve every contract we enter into, but they set the agenda for workforce development training efforts in this region. Our board has always said it wants most of program dollars going into training. Well over 51% of our total dollars will go into training of one kind or another.”
In addition, all of the programs have fiscal monitors that are charged with making sure funds are expended properly. In addition, there is 27-member chief elected official board that works in conjunction with and appoints members to the Workforce Investment Board.
“With board oversight and fiscal monitors, there is a lot of accountability in the federal program,” Castell said. “We have stringent guidelines from the federal government on how these monies can be spent. Part of our role as the fiscal administrative agent is to advise our board and program operators on those guidelines by which those monies can be spent. The ultimate in local oversight is going to be our board.”
In addition to Three Rivers, the three other local Workforce Investment Boards are Delta, Mississippi Partnership and South Central Mississippi Works.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.