FACES OF AUSTERITY 2.0
How Budget Cuts Continue to Make Us Sicker, Poorer and Less Secure
CUTS HURT INDIVIDUALS SEEKING BETTER JOB OPPORTUNITIES
Successful Job Training Organization Forced to Close Sites, Leaving Rural Job Seekers Without Access
Featuring: Thomas Hudson, Manufacturing Production Employee, GE Appliances and Michael Gritton, Executive Director, KentuckianaWorks, Louisville, Kentucky
Photo Featuring Thomas Hudson
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT: Training a 21st Century Workforce
Did you know that while 54 percent of all American jobs are considered “middle-skill” jobs, only 44 percent of Americans have the appropriate skills to perform those jobs?1 To help address this general shortage, as well as more specific worker shortages, the federal government provides job training through a number of grant programs that aim to train workers and connect them with the employers who need them. Among others, these include:
Jobs by Skill Level, United States, 2015
Jobs Openings by Skill Level, United States, 2014-2024
Jobs and Workers by Skill Level, United States, 2015
Source: National Skills Coalition
KentuckianaWorks: Training Kentuckians
In 2015, Thomas Hudson was working a temporary, low-wage job, unsure of how he would manage to improve his station in life. So, when he learned about free Certified Production Technician training at the Kentucky Manufacturing Career Center, Thomas left his low-skill job to enter the 30-day training program. Today, he has a new job as a trained Manufacturing Production Employee for GE Appliances in Louisville.
Reflecting on his decision enroll in and complete the program, Thomas says, “I was real skeptical about it because it was a 30-day class. I actually almost walked out of the orientation, I actually was headed to the front door. They just persuaded me to stay and I am so glad that I did. It was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.”
Thomas is just one of thousands of Kentuckians who improved their lives with the help of services from KentuckianaWorks, the Workforce Development Board for the Greater Louisville region, which covers a service area of 7 counties in Kentucky. Their mission is to help job seekers find employment and improve their skills through education and training. They also help employers meet their workforce needs by linking them with skilled, qualified employees. In 2016 alone, KentuckianaWorks placed more than 1,400 people in jobs at an average wage of $35,426, creating an estimated yearly payroll of $49.8 million.2 Overall, nearly 110,000 people access services through KentuckianaWorks programs each year.
KentuckianaWorks and its Executive Director Michael Gritton rely heavily on the federal government for funding to support this critical work. Through a combination of grants from the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services, and a combination of state and local funding, Michael and his team are able to provide job training scholarships, workforce readiness preparation, one-on-one job-search assistance and partnerships with employers. Until recently, the workforce development board had also received Department of Justice funding to aid in reentry programs for recently incarcerated people to help them gain the skills and knowledge needed to find employment.
Funding for Federal Workforce Programs
(in billions of dollars)
Source: National Skills Coalition
When Funding Falls Short
Despite their continued success, Michael and his team face significant challenges to their funding. Last year, due to a change in federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) grants, KentuckianaWorks had its budget slashed by $900,000. And though state and local funds have been able to plug holes in the past, the magnitude and immediacy of the cut has resulted in real reductions in capacity.
In early 2017, the state–due to its own budget cuts–had to close two career centers where KentuckianaWorks provided services in the surrounding counties of Bullitt and Shelby. KentuckianaWorks did not have the funding to operate the centers without the state partnership, so there are now no career centers in six of the seven counties served.
“We made the decision we had to make based on the amount of foot traffic at each location. Unfortunately, this also now means that residents in some counties have to drive as far as 45 minutes to reach career services.”
KentuckianaWorks is now working on providing mobile career services but so far, the model has proven difficult. Michael explains:
“We are trying to take advantage of the hub and spoke model that has been successful elsewhere. We hold local events throughout the region including in local libraries and community centers. However, it has been difficult to get the word out about these opportunities to communities who may not be as technologically advanced. I fear we are missing Kentuckians who are looking for our services.”
No New Training Grants
Three career service locations were not the only casualties of the federal cut. In their July 1 budget, KentuckianaWorks was unable to include support for new job training scholarships, which help Kentuckians train for better careers. Rather, all of the funds available for scholarships will be used to support current enrollees.
Having the money to fund education and training is one of the biggest obstacles for young people and adults attempting to better themselves educationally.3 Without sustainable, appropriate federal funding, those obstacles will continue to challenge those looking to make a positive change for themselves and their families.
Continued Threats to Funding
WIOA grants, which make up the largest portion of federal funding for KentuckianaWorks, are distributed three times per year but the largest sum comes in October, just after the heavy training enrollment period that comes with the start of school. Therefore, Michael and his team are cautious to stretch funding throughout the year and maintain a reserve for busy season. However, being responsible may put their funding in jeopardy.
“We need cash on hand to place people in training programs but when we still have money near the end of the funding cycle, lawmakers assume we do not need it and cut funding. So, we are in a situation where by virtue of trying to spend responsibly, we are becoming a target for cuts.”
Michael and his team stretch every dollar to provide career services to Kentuckians but additional cuts threaten their ability to maintain the same level of service.
Images from: http://www.nationalskillscoalition.org/resources/publications/file/Why-Congress-should-invest-in-adult-basic-education.pdf