Realities of Retraining

Akron Beacon Journal - February 13, 2008

The machinery for aiding displaced workers grinds inefficiently in Ohio

The Akron Beacon Journal

Ohio’s economy is in transition. New technologies are creating new industries and businesses and changing the labor-intensive, heavy industries of the past. The altered landscape places a high premium on a work force with the training and flexible skills to fill the new jobs. It also makes essential an efficient system to retrain displaced workers.

Unfortunately, the worker training services in Ohio are not up to the challenge. A study by Policy Matters Ohio released this month found several shortcomings in the state’s management of resources from the federal Workforce Investment Act. There’s no excuse for the weakness of the program. The need for worker services is much recognized and urgent.

Ted Strickland understands the urgency to improve the services. As a candidate for governor, he cited Ohio ranking next to last among the states in its use of federal WIA resources, spending 59 percent of federal allocations for work force training. The new report identified more weaknesses.

Ohio carries over large balances from year to year, particularly in Rapid Response funds, used to provide information and services to workers notified of layoffs. In the 2006-07 program year, the state spent a mere $10.5 million of the $29 million available.

Ohio serves far fewer workers than states with smaller populations, and Rapid Response is not standardized across the state. Further, there’s poor coordination between the federal and state work force programs. Between 2003 and 2006, the number of workers referred from the state re-employment program to the federal training and education program dropped from 1,400 to fewer than 100.

To its credit, the Strickland team has made improvements the past year. Ohio needs every dollar it can muster to train new as well as dislocated workers. Under a new federal law, the state could lose work force funds it does not spend. The Policy Matters Ohio study serves well in pointing out how Ohio can serve its workers more effectively.

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