A workforce development system that can work

When Governor Jindal addressed the Louisiana Legislature on March 31, he made it very clear that workforce development will be the primary focus of his administration during this session. Seeking to improve Louisiana’s image for economic development, the governor tackled ethics reform in an earlier special session and business tax reform in a second.

He now turns his attention to delivering a better trained and qualified workforce to employers around the state.  He is to be commended for recognizing that workforce development is critical to Louisiana’s economic vitality and viability.  We cannot expect existing businesses to remain in our state, let alone expand (and never mind trying to recruit new companies) if they cannot find the workers they need.

The governor is sponsoring a package of bills this session that addresses the challenges of developing Louisiana’s workforce on a number of fronts. The key bill reorganizes how workforce development is managed.  SB 612 by Senate President Joel Chaisson and HB 1104 by House Speaker Jim Tucker seek to better coordinate all workforce service and training programs scattered throughout state government. The legislation would delegate needs assessment, decision-making and problem-solving to local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) so that the outcomes are relevant to their local economies.

The bills would recreate the Louisiana Department of Labor as the Louisiana Workforce Commission.  All job training, employment and employment-related educational programs, along with their functions and funding, would be integrated into the workforce development service delivery system under the authority of this commission.  Meanwhile, the local WIBs would be given the responsibility, resources and flexibility required for addressing the workforce needs in their regions through the one-stop business/career solutions centers they manage.

With the expanded role contemplated for the WIBs, they become the point of contact for local employers to communicate their employment and training needs.  The WIBs will develop and oversee programs and initiatives designed to deliver the workers that their local employers must have to keep their shop doors open and their plant sites operating.  An important function of the WIBs will be to review plans for workforce education in their areas to ensure that they meet the current and future needs of existing and emerging industries.  They will recommend appropriate changes, and education providers will have to respond to these recommendations within one month.

The commission will establish criteria for the chartering of WIBs and the certification of their one-stop business/career solutions centers.  It will contract with the WIBs for program planning and service delivery, while providing technical assistance, training, professional development services and other support to them and their staffs.  The commission’s role will be limited to oversight and funding, allowing the WIBs to deliver solutions for their local workers and employers.

The structural and procedural changes that would be brought about with the passage of SB 612 or HB 1104 will enhance the success of the other measures that are part of Governor Jindal’s workforce development package.  To be effective, the dollars invested in training and serving Louisiana’s workers must mesh with actual local business needs.

Implementing this concept of allowing local control and flexibility in matters historically reserved to state government would be a rather novel course for Louisiana to take. If it works as expected, one would hope that our state leaders might be emboldened to employ it in some other areas of state government.

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