One stop, but myriad problems

The technical obstacles in carrying out the Workforce Investment Act are

mirrored — and exacerbated — by "office politics" stemming from the cross-agency

nature of workforce investment systems.

The question of how to integrate different agency databases is entangled

with how to integrate different agency cultures. One-stop centers frequently

involve co-locating agency personnel — with customers moving from one adviser

to the next, depending on what services they need. But those advisers won't

necessarily agree on how to manage the center or its cases.

Such clashes are more than an inconvenience. The legislation requires

one-stop centers to meet performance standards, including measures of the

rate of job placement, job retention, earnings gains and skill attainments.

Failure to meet performance standards over a two-year period can result

in sanctions or a reorganization.

Prior to the Workforce Investment Act and the one-stop centers, each

of the agencies involved in workforce development measured their own program

performance. They based their assessments on their definitions for such

things as job placement, job retention and placement wage rates. Given that

the data for Workforce Investment Act performance is most often produced

by the same systems that are used to track program participants, each of

the agency employees needs to quickly manage a raft of standardized definitions.

"Local areas in our state have contracted for some team building, and

that's proven very successful in integrating these multiple cultures," said

Donna Johns, director of workforce delivery systems in Tennessee's Department

of Labor and Workforce. "Overall, I think the partners in Tennessee have

worked very successfully together. It was a fragmented scene before then."

The need to build workforce infrastructure from scratch also helped

the state. The Case Management Activity and Tracking System, for example,

was a priority backed by the governor whose emphasis had an impact beyond

the confines of data management.

"In a broader context, CMATS has proven to be a spearhead in bringing

government departments together," said Mark Clark, director of technology

for CMATS. "It's provided a common cause around which they can gather, and

it's produced enthusiasm and support [for the act] at the highest level.

Without it, I doubt if there would have been the drive for this that there

has been."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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