- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Reports of the nation’s jobless recovery signify an end to the recession, yet unemployment nationwide continued its upward climb, landing at 10.2 percent.

Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed earlier this year to create and preserve jobs is being rolled out as rapidly as possible, but with 15,700,000 people still unemployed, it is taking time to bring about the anticipated results.

Economists tell us that it generally takes 18 months of positive growth of gross domestic product in an average recession before we see job growth, and this is no average recession. In the interim, out-of-work adults throughout our nation are taking advantage of stimulus-funded skills training and support that is available right now through work-force investment.

Of the $787 billion recovery act package, about $4 billion is being used by the Labor Department to help Americans who are out of work find and keep jobs and to support them while they’re unemployed. Of this, $3 billion is designated for work-force investment in local areas throughout the United States.

Administered by local work-force investment boards, this funding is paying for training and support for thousands of youth, adults and laid-off workers around the country to build or upgrade their skills.

Furthermore, work-force investment boards are linked with local businesses and helping to channel people into the training programs that will feed directly into a region’s specific demand industries, or to specific employers who need trained and skilled workers.

Skills training is not only a good opportunity for those who cannot find a job right now, but these dollars spent to train residents will make our country’s work force more competitive.

The Summer Youth Employment Program is an example of how this funding was effective in providing work experience and training. During the past summer, recovery act funding ensured that more than 300,000 young people, who likely would otherwise have been unemployed, got jobs. This program could not have been timelier, as this summer only 3 in 10 youths got jobs who wanted to work; the lowest in recorded history.

In New York state, about 24,000 youth were placed in more than 8,000 work sites, including day care centers, a radio station, clothing stores, restaurants, a printing store and in park restoration. State and city funding was brought in to complement the stimulus funding received to pay the wages of these youth.

In San Bernardino County, Calif., more than $5 million was infused into the economy by the stimulus-funded wages of the nearly 2,000 youths placed in summer jobs. In addition to the experience and training these youths gained, about 650 businesses and government organizations benefited from this extra help.

These dollars created summer jobs that did not previously exist, and, as a result, young people leaving the program now possess job skills - increasing their chances of stepping onto the next rung of their career ladder.

Work-force investment boards oversee federal funding used to pay for skills training in local areas and operate the nation’s One-Stop Career Centers, the access point to these services.

These centers offer locals free help with career placement, skills assessment, computers, phones and other job-finding resources. Through these centers, people can access stimulus funding to pay for training that will build their job skills. Support, such as gas cards or funding for uniforms or tools, is also available to those in training. This system is a lifeline for desperate people in today’s economy.

Work-force investment funding is also helping struggling businesses. It can pay for training to upgrade the skills of current employees, pay the wages of new hires while they train on the job and help a business find and screen candidates to hire. It can even pay for training to help employees learn to use new equipment or computer programs that make a business more efficient.

Work-force investment boards are quietly operating in their local areas around the country, offering vital services to those in need. Each works with its local economic development agencies, education and training institutions, employers and government to help those affected by the downturn.

The investment in our youth this summer ensured many young people had an opportunity for work experience that would have been otherwise unavailable. The efforts being made to provide skills training to those in need of a job will prepare them to work in fields most likely to gain momentum and provide employment opportunities as the economy recovers. This little-known segment of the stimulus funding could not be more useful right now.

I urge the federal government to continue to fund and support this valuable effort. I also encourage work-force investment boards to communicate about the effect they are having on their local economies so more people can take advantage of skills training while they wait for job growth to return.

To find the nearest work-force investment board or one-stop center, visit servicelocator.org.

Ron Painter is president of National Association of Workforce Boards, which represents nearly 650 business-led work-force organizations and Workforce Investment Boards. The boards administer and oversee federal funding for work-force training.

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