Northern Colorado leads state in centralizing jobs programs

CAREERS

& EDUCATION

Northern Colorado is marching in the forefront of a statewide movement to radically change Colorado’s system of delivering employment and training services to job seekers and employers.

The key to the change is that the new system, which will be implemented over the next two years in each of 18 regions across the state, will integrate into a single delivery system the confusing and myriad job-service programs.

Most importantly, each One-Stop operation will tailor services to fit regional work-force issues and tie them to the economic-development goals of that region.

Furthermore, each operation will be governed by county commissioners from the region, and policy will be set by a work-force-development board comprised of community leaders from private companies and government entities in the region.

Finally, all services in the new system, dubbed the One-Stop Career System, will be under one roof.

The One-Stop concept came into existence in June 1994 after an executive order and House Bill 1191 created the Colorado Workforce Coordinating Council. The council was charged with knitting together the patchwork of federally funded employment and training programs, which had become fragmented, duplicative and overly prescriptive, said Ledy Garcia-Eckstein, executive director of the council.

“If [an employer] wanted to find out about tax credits for hiring welfare workers, you went one place,” Garcia-Eckstein said. “If you wanted to get a trained employee, you went somewhere else.”

Then in late 1996, the U.S. Department of Labor granted the state $10.5 million to be paid over three years to implement the regional system, Garcia-Eckstein said. Once started, each regional system will be funded by programs already in place, she said.

Because one region – Weld County – had already integrated its employment and training services several years earlier, “they became the model in terms of integration,” Garcia-Eckstein said.

“In 1978, Weld was one of 15 sites selected nationally under a welfare-reform program to see if the various [employment and training] systems could be integrated for greater efficiency,” explained Linda Perez, director of Weld’s Employment Services.

The result was a contract between the Weld County Commissioners and the Colorado Department of Labor that combined state-run and county-run programs under a single entity – the county commissioners, Perez said.

Similar contracts will govern the new One-Stop Centers as they are implemented.

Now, “even though in the One-Stop we still have separate programs with separate funding, we’re getting away from talking about categorical programs. It’s a new mind-set,” Perez said.

Larimer County implemented its One-Stop on July 1, 1997, under Joni Friedman, director of the Larimer Employment and Training/Job Service.

Larimer’s format was to create four “mini-centers” to administer programs for dislocated workers, youth, labor exchange (matching applicants with employers) and for disadvantaged adults and welfare recipients.

Mike Bozeman, human-resources manager at Holnam Inc. in Laporte, said he hires from 5 percent to 10 percent of his 105-person work force through the Larimer One-Stop office.

Bozeman, whose entry-level, low-skilled positions pay about $11.50 per hour, said he supplies the Larimer office with application forms and posts the openings there, and the office enters the information into its network.

“The quality of the pool of applicants will vary, and right now, it’s really tough for us with unemployment under 2 percent,” Bozeman said. “It takes a while to get a pool we can work from.” Bozeman said there is little turnover.

Most of the Larimer center’s funding goes to servicing the disadvantaged and welfare through skills assessments and training and counseling to help remove obstacles to employment, such as transportation problems, Friedman said.

Most applicants stop receiving job-service assistance after they enter full-time employment, except in the case of the disadvantaged/welfare applicants who often need additional assistance to help them retain jobs.

“We are trying to design a program that will work with them for up to two years,” Friedman said.

When fully implemented, One-Stops will have a job-resource center where applicants and employers can obtain information on demographics, the labor market, training, economic trends or major employers in the area, Perez said.

Such data will be developed and maintained by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment in a centralized computer system that will link work-force-development programs throughout the state.

For example, should a Weld employer request a number of qualified production workers, the computer network will show how many such workers are in the labor market areas of Greeley, or Northern Colorado or the entire state, Perez said.

One-Stop centers and regional development boards will constantly monitor the region’s changing work-force needs and adapt services as needed, as occurred in the Weld system a few years ago.

“Employers were needing maintenance mechanics, but we didn’t have any coming through our system,” Perez said.

“So we met with a group of employers at Aims Community College and put together a maintenance-mechanic training program, trained a number of women and achieved [more than one] objective,” Perez said.

When Sykes Enterprises Inc. was building new facilities in Greeley, the company used Weld’s One-Stop facilities to mass-recruit and take applications, Perez said.

“When we knew what skills they needed, we worked with Aims to put together a training program and sent some of our targeted workers – dislocated, economically disadvantaged and welfare – so they could train and compete for jobs at Sykes,” she said.

Western Temporary Services, which gets about 10 percent of all its Greeley employees from the Weld center, including upper-level, highly skilled job seekers as well as low-skilled workers, uses all of the center’s services, said area manager Sue Bjorland.

“If we have someone who comes in and wants to be a marine biologist, we can say, ‘Let’s go to [Weld One-Stop] and see the labor market for that,'” Bjorland said.

Or, when employers want highly skilled applicants for $6 per hour, Bjorland said she can show them information from the Weld center compiled by the county and the state – not by her business – that shows they need to pay a higher wage for that job, she explained.

In these days of welfare cutbacks, a strong economy and a tight labor market, Garcia-Eckstein said that good models are emerging in the work-force-development arena, such as employers who support employees working half days and attending school the other half, or working six hours and taking two hours of literacy training on the job.

“I think employers are willing to look at different possibilities, and that opens up opportunities to be very creative in training and workplace learning programs,” she said.