In Alameda County, three funding sources under the Workforce Investment Act are in the process of putting close to $14 million in stimulus funds to use for dislocated workers and adult and youth programs.
While the youth program in Alameda County, which places youths from ages 14-24 into summer jobs for work experience, has been completely funded and will provide seasonal work for 684 people, officials have an 18-month time frame to dispense funds for the dislocated worker program.
Dorothy Chen, director for Alameda County Workforce Investment Board, said that between July 2008 – June 2009, Alameda County lost 11,000 jobs and that figure does not include the city of Oakland (the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board is responsible for the other 13 cities in the county including Emeryville and Livermore). During the previous two years the figures stayed around 5,400.
“There aren’t 11,000 jobs waiting in the wings,” Chen said.
In her role on the Investment Board, Chen will be responsible for putting the $3.25 million in stimulus funding the county (the city of Oakland was awarded about the same allotment) received out to bid. Using the six One-Stop centers in the region, which provide access and enrollment options for those who are unemployed, the funding will go toward providing training based on individual need and preference.
Much of the training will be rooted in “green” technology and other growing industries, Chen said.
“California as a state is going green,” she said. “We are going to be training people in those growth areas including health care.”
Other training areas will be in the solar industry and the heating, air and refrigeration (HVAC) industry.
One of the major hits to Alameda County took place at the end of last year when Mervyns went out of business. The headquarters for Mervyns was in Hayward – one of the 13 cities under the jurisdiction of the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board. Because of the Mervyns bankruptcy, nearly 1,300 people lost their jobs in the county and many of them had inadequate skills, Chen said.
“We found out that many of them knew how to use computers, but only Mervyns’ programs; they didn’t know how to use any other system,” she said.
In situations like this, the stimulus funds will be routed to the 49 workforce investment boards in the state of California, run through a system of bureaucratic checks and balances and begin to update the skills of those who are facing financial hardships.
“We are putting more people into training,” Chen said. “We are providing business services to local employers that need training money so they don’t have to lay off their staff because some of them may have obsolete skills.”
To assure the stimulus funds would be going to the areas that businesses and residents in the county wanted them to, the county conducted surveys and held forums to get public input.
Advertisements appeared in local newspapers and 900 businesses were sent a survey on employers’ needs. Chen said that of three funding streams (adult, youth and dislocated workers) the decision to focus on training for dislocated workers was unanimous.
Chen said the survey helped give the board and county a focus and helped them to decide where and how much of the stimulus funds to allocate.
“I don’t want to train a bunch of people and spend millions of dollars on something that is obsolete. You don’t want to send them to a basket weaving course because no one is going to get a job as a basket weaver,” she said.
Applying for Training
If someone is unemployed in Alameda County, or anywhere in California, and wishes to seek employment training, they have the option of visiting a One-Stop center. There are six One-Stops in Alameda County from Oakland to Richmond. Like a library, they are utlized by obtaining a membership card. That card can be used at any One-Stop center.
When a person is unemployed, they may need services from many different agencies such as the Employment Development Department, Department of Rehabilitative Services, Department of Veteran Affairs and many more. The One-Stops provide that instant access as well as the opportunity to sign up for the stimulus-funded job training services that will be in place in the coming 18 months, said Melbra Watts, director of administrative services for Oakland Private Industry Council Inc.
“The idea of the One-Stop is that the person can come to one place and be able to access services from all these different partners,” Watts said.
The Council acts as the system administrator for the city of Oakland when it is awarded funding. The Industry Council is then responsible for issuing a Request for Proposal and then subcontracting with other agencies to provide services. They do not provide training but do monitor the process and pay the tuition for participants.
Watts said the amount of people seeking services has skyrocketed.
“We are getting between 400 and 500 visits per day of people who are looking for work, who are visiting our One-Stop career centers,” Watts said of her 50-employee Council. “For many, it’s just really intensive help and finding a job, for others it may involve some skill development or training.”
If that is the case, the individuals may go through the Council’s training agencies that have been preapproved.
Both Chen and Watts are of the opinion that the stimulus money that has yet to be used will be completely utilized after it clears the bureaucratic process and distributed in the proper areas.
“It is probably still too soon [to judge the stimulus package], it’s only been just a few months,” Watts said.
Chen said the same thing that has slowed the distribution of funds from the stimulus package is also process of checks and balances.
“I don’t think the people understand the system, it’s not like you know, we’ll all stand in the corner and say ‘get in line, you get $10,000 each,’ that’s not how it works, these are the taxpayers’ money and they have to be procured, you can’t give it to your father, you can’t give it to your mother otherwise you are going to have all of this kind of criminal activity,” Chen said. “We have a corrupt system, if we weren’t checking someone would be hoarding the money, you know you don’t know where the money goes – you have to be able to track it.”
For more information on One-Stop centers and the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board, visit www.acwib.org.
Blake Ellington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.