Workforce Development Dollars — Has your community cashed in?

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wdb1In North Carolina, workforce training programs are primarily delivered through the 23 local, workforce development boards or through the state’s 59 community colleges. Most economic developers will be aware of these resources but may not know some of the programs these providers offer or the creative ways training funds can be used. This post will give a brief overview of workforce development boards and community colleges in North Carolina and a glimpse of a new model that is taking root in the state. 

How can workforce development boards help my community?

Workforce development boards (WDBs)—also called workforce investment boards—have federal dollars they can disburse through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and its recent iteration, signed by President Obama in July 2014, the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act. WIA funds go to the governor’s office in each state and then are allocated locally based on poverty and employment rates. Funds are used for programs that serve disaffected youth, adults, and dislocated workers.

WIA allows local government officials to determine the structure and fiscal agents for local workforce development boards. In North Carolina, these agents are often councils of governments (COGs) or city and county governments. However, there is a new model on the way. See below.

Of the programs that WDBs provide, some may be unknown or unused by your local employers. For example:

  • The On-the-Job Training (OJT) program is available to any licensed, non- or for-profit, North Carolina employer and will pay up to 90% of employees’ wages (the exact percentage is locally determined) during a specified training period. The WDB will work with an employer to create a job description as well as identify and screen candidates. If a company has a key employee who is retiring, OJT is an excellent way to fund knowledge transfer before that institutional knowledge walks out the door. Employers do not have to hire the employee in training.
  • The Incumbent Workforce Development program provides training grants for employers, who are at risk of laying off workers. Funds pay for training for workers to remain in their current jobs or to upgrade skills to obtain a different job at the same employer. Lifetime limits for a company are $40,000, but like OJT funds, may vary locally. If you have companies that are automating or employing new technology, they could benefit from this program.
  • WDBs also provide adult education and basic literacy, which may seem inapplicable to most employers. However, these training funds can be used creatively. In Chatham County, a local employer approached the WDB for training to help its Hispanic employees learn to read blueprints in English. The WDB then partnered with community college to create customized training that served both employees and the employer.

How can community colleges help the employers in my community?

Like WDBs, community colleges in North Carolina also provide basic education and career readiness skills. WFDs can seek any registered trainer to provide programs, and often, the community college is the provider of choice. Beyond basic education, the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) also creates customized training programs tied to local employers’ needs. For example:

  • The Customized Business and Industry (CBI) training program provides leadership training and other critical skills for employers in specific industries, including advanced manufacturing. However, employers in other industries can take advantage of customized training dollars for specific employees. For example, a hospital that wants its maintenance technicians to learn team-based, problem-solving skills can also receive CBI training.
  • Companies can also pay for customized training programs directly with the community college. For example, a local motorcycle dealer can create a program to train its technicians on using diagnostic equipment to test torque. An employer that is privately-held or family-owned and doesn’t want to publicize its employees’ salaries or agree to specific hiring goals might opt for this self-service, customized training.

A new model for workforce development

These programs should give communities ideas on how to take advantage of low- or no-cost training to help their employers grow. In two communities in North Carolina however, the process is even simpler. Employers need only go to one place to pursue training, because the WDB is housed within the community college.

At Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), the Triangle South Workforce Development Board is housed within the college, and likewise in Cumberland County, workforce development board staff are employed by Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC). This merged model resulted from local, elected officials in both regions pushing for greater transparency and collaboration across workforce development programs.

Both programs are less than four years old, and staff at CCCC and FTCC report greater coordination and faster response time to businesses. Employers now have one point of contact at the community college. This business services rep routes employer requests internally to the relevant county or industry staff. This strategy eliminates the need for the employer to know about multiple training programs and to navigate different training providers.

Communities interested in streamlining their workforce development programs might want to start with a stakeholder survey asking businesses for their opinions on the current workforce development landscape. What would you ask in a survey to your businesses? What would they say about collaboration and finding training information in your community?

Susan Sanford is pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree at UNC-Chapel Hill with a focus on economic and workforce development.

This post was prepared in fulfillment of requirements for a graduate level course on community development and revitalization held at the UNC School of Government (PLAN764/PUBA 780).

One Response to “Workforce Development Dollars — Has your community cashed in?”

  1. H. DeWitt Blackwell, Jr.

    Perhaps a more empirical approach, such as surveying these 23 WFDBs yourself on their successes, efficiencies and whether they had already, if not annually, asked their local businesses about the economic ladscape in which they were operating. This approach of gathering some complete data versus using one WFDB in one part of the state may have provided you with a more comprehensive assessment as to what is working best across the state.

    Maybe your acquiring some background knowledge on how the federal model is designed to provide checks and balances as to the distribution and accountability of how these WIOA finds are being awarded would be enlightening. Grasping the concept of local government and local business input in grant awarding would also help you better understand that the community colleges who receive the great majority of these funds should not be the original/accountable recipient of these funds to avoid a conflict of interest situation where community colleges are giving the funding to themselves and also evaluating themselves on how well these funds are being used on an annual basis. You know the old “roster in the henhouse analogy.
    Doing something “new” is always the trendy and easy approach in assessment. Assessing what is working and learning best practices from successful programs is a lot more work and analysis. Using only one of the 23 WFDBs approach as the new way for 22 other processes may be as Mark Twain said “jumping at conclusions.

    Dee Blackwell

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