The good, bad and ugly of Federal Job Training

Updated:  U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) released an oversight report Tuesday on job training programs in Oklahoma entitled, “What Works (and What Doesn’t): The Good, Bad and Ugly of Federal Job Training in Oklahoma.”  This report was the result of an exhaustive year-long review of job training programs in Oklahoma that included 70 field interviews and meetings with officials. 

The report follows last year’s groundbreaking study from the Government Accountability Office that found taxpayers are spending $18 billion on 47 duplicative job training across 9 federal agencies. 

GAO could not find evidence that any of the job training programs were working.  Since GAO released its report 18 months ago, the Senate has failed to consolidate, streamline or improve job training programs.  

“This study confirms what GAO discovered: Taxpayers are spending billions of dollars employing people in job training programs instead of training unemployed workers for jobs.  Taxpayers should be appalled Congress has done nothing to reform these programs for more than 18 months,” Dr. Coburn said.

“The report also shows that states are vastly more capable of managing job training programs than the federal government,” Dr. Coburn added.  “In Oklahoma, and across America, program administrators and job-seekers are trapped in a system that simply does not work.  Sadly, Washington politicians have been more concerned about protecting their own jobs – and promoting their commitment to job-training programs – rather than providing those in need the actual training necessary to achieve meaningful employment.”

“While programs in Oklahoma were, by and large, hampered by Washington-directed duplication, there are Oklahomans who are defying the odds through their hard-work, ingenuity and compassion.  For instance, Jason Price, the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services Program Manager, recognized that, in many cases, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries had the potential to enter the workforce despite their disabilities.  Price had the compassion and common sense to create incentives for disabled Oklahomans to work up to their potential and developed a program that has helped as many as 3,000 disabled Oklahomans to find work each year – 100 of whom leave the disability program entirely.  Price’s work has honored the dignity of disabled Oklahoma and represents the best values of our nation,” Dr. Coburn said.    

Key findings of the report:

States know what works better than career politicians in Washington (see pg. 32 of report)

Oklahoma’s jobseekers, workers and employers should not have to send their tax dollars to Washington, only to have bureaucrats send the dollars back in the form of regulations and programs that do not successfully serve Oklahoma’s workforce and job training needs. The Sooner State is introducing the most severely disabled Oklahomans (SSDI recipients) back onto the private payroll – through efforts championed by an Oklahoman – not by Washington bureaucrats and politicians.

Duplication and overlap among federal job training programs is rampant and creates problems for the States administering the programs. (see pg. 12 of report)

In Oklahoma there are 40 different job training programs, operated by at least 45 groups, organizations, tribes, state agencies, educational institutions, and quasi-government contractors, across 180 locations with an annual cost of $164 million working separately to develop Oklahoma’s workforce.  One rural Oklahoma town, Ada, has 17 different job training programs serving a population of 16,810.

Administrative costs sometimes consume the bulk of federal job training dollars. (see pg. 22 of report)

In August of 2011, Oklahoma’s Southeast Workforce Investment Board (SEWIB) passed a multi-million dollar budget which allocated only 14 cents of every dollar for actual job training services. The SEWIB’s budget allocated more for “administrative travel” than “dislocated worker services.”

Federal job training dollars are spent on questionable items and activities which do not lead to sustainable employment. (see pg. 15 of report)

Job Corp, Oklahoma’s largest recipient of federal training dollars, spent over $36,000, during a 6 month timeframe, on flowers and billboards. Job Corps also pays students based on length of time in the program—offering higher stipends for longer enrollment. Additionally, Job Corps takes students for weekly bowling trips and other recreational activities.

In another case, Job Corp spent around $76,000 per person to help youth obtain minimum wage jobs.

Individuals, who receive job training, often do not enter related fields of employment. (see pg.18 of report)

Culinary students at Job Corps have been placed as pest-control workers, funeral attendants, baggage porters, concierges, tour guides and telemarketers among other things. Nurse assistant and pharmacy technician students at Job Corps were placed as telephone operators and tax preparers.

Performance metrics for job training programs are severely lacking.(see pg. 21 of report)

Training-related employment is rarely tracked among job training programs. However, federal law prohibits the Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration (ETA) from establishing new performance measures apart from what is required in Section 136 of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).

Too often job training programs are segregated based on race, gender, background, and other demographics instead of being designed to meet labor market demands. (see pg. 12 of report)

Of Oklahoma’s 40 training job training programs there are 8 different programs targeting Native Americans that must be navigated by jobseekers and 7 different programs serving Veterans – some of which require veterans to pursue training for “green skills,” not because of a labor market analysis but because politicians in Washington are imposing ideological agendas on states. 

Click here to read the report.


Update: Late Tuesday, CareerTech released a statement on Coburn’s report headlined: CareerTech helps Oklahomans succeed

Referencing the report and noting it is the result of a year-long review of job training programs in Oklahoma that included 70 field interviews and meetings with officials.

The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, however, the report states, illustrates what Oklahomans can do when they “localize efforts for workforce needs.” They noted Coburn also credits the Governor’s Council on Workforce and Economic Development, of which CareerTech is a part, and the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services with helping Oklahomans find work.

Coburn cites the local base of CareerTech’s technology centers as a large part of the reason for its success.

"Oklahoma’s CareerTech system works with companies throughout the state to provide the customized training they need," said State Director Phil Berkenbile. One such example is at Western Technology Center in Burns Flat.

Through the training and assistance provided by the technology center, Superior Fabrication of Elk City has been able to add 36 welders to its payroll during the past two years. These jobs represent an increase in the local payroll of more than $1 million per year.

Terry Mores, Superior’s CEO, recognizes Western Tech as the company’s "training partner of choice." The expansion of Superior’s workforce has allowed the company to increase productivity by taking on more contracts. Its primary customers are energy sector companies

“Oklahoma CareerTech’s integration with the school system and local workforce allows for community influence in the training process; such factors have not gone unnoticed by Oklahoma’s employers,” Coburn states in his report.

He also quotes a report from the Governor’s Council on Workforce and Economic Development that said Oklahoma employers believe CareerTech has a “finger on the pulse of Oklahoma’s businesses.”

CareerTech offers education and training for high school students and adults at its 29 technology centers with 57 campuses. High school juniors and seniors living in a technology center’s district attend for free and learn skills that help them move successfully into Oklahoma’s workforce or continue their education at a college or university.

CareerTech offers help to workers moving from one field to another, workers who lost jobs because of layoffs or other reasons and veterans moving from the military to private industry.

Through its 16 skills centers, CareerTech also helps inmates in Oklahoma’s correctional facilities receive training that will help them obtain jobs after release.

In addition, CareerTech works with Oklahoma companies – both new and existing – to give workers the skills they need so they and the companies can be a successful part of Oklahoma’s economy.

“It is interesting that Oklahoma’s major employers find Career Tech is better connected with their needs, considering Career Tech operates nearly autonomously from the federal government – funded predominantly through state and local tax dollars,” Coburn writes in his report.