One stop, but myriad problems
- By Brian Robinson
- Jan 07, 2001
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
Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.