Louisiana’s Workforce Programs Aren’t Working
Louisiana’s hardworking men and women need better training and skills so they can achieve better-paying jobs. But according to a new audit of the state’s workforce training service, the program is failing to live up to its mission, all while spending $55 million per year in taxpayer funds. Fortunately, there’s a way that Louisiana can improve this program and ensure that it provides effective services to workers in our state and help ensure Louisiana’s comeback.
This audit was conducted because Representative Barbara Reich Freiberg introduced and passed HR 184 during the 2022 Legislative Session requesting a performance audit of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) programs administered by the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
WIOA is a federal program that is designed to help individuals find meaningful employment opportunities through job search, training, and education programs. It consists of six different programs administered by 15 different Local Workforce Development Boards across Louisiana that operate independently, but under one state plan intended to meet regional workforce needs.
The local boards provide education, training, and job search services through 60 “one-stop centers” located throughout the state that offer career and training services, though the type of services offered are unique to the local board that oversees the center.
The audit focused on the largest three programs of the six that make up WIOA. The results show that big improvements are needed:
- Not all services are offered in all 15 of the Local Workforce Development Board areas. Only 13 boards provide on-the-job training, 8 provide apprenticeships, and only 3 provide at least one type of customized training (specific to one type of employer, and primarily paid for by the employer).
- There is insufficient oversight of the local workforce boards from the Louisiana Workforce Commission. More guidance from the state could improve integration and service delivery of the programs.
The number of people served, when compared to the number of people eligible for services, is extremely low for most programs, and has declined since 2019. Less than 2% of low-income adult and youth individuals eligible for services are served. This means that individuals on safety-net programs, those most in need of job training services to get off of those programs and become independent, are those least served by Louisiana’s Workforce Commission.
On average, the Workforce Commission spends $55 million per year on these programs, yet less than 20% of the total eligible population is served.
While programs met their target goals for participants gaining skills, they did not meet their targets for employment. This means that while the state is training people to get a new or upgraded skill, people are not getting jobs with those skills. Nearly three-fourths of participants did not obtain a job related to the training they received in the WIOA program; however, they still had better outcomes than those who did not receive any training.
The audit also revealed that while a majority of the participants obtained a job upon completion of the program (59.2%), their earnings were often lower than before they entered the program. The intent of WIOA is to assist individuals in job training and education to get a higher quality job to be self-sufficient and move from the social-safety net system and into a life of flourishing. This audit showed that 60% earned below a living wage. This suggests that WIOA is not meeting its stated goals and purpose.
The programs are serving fewer eligible individuals, participants are making less money upon completion, and are not working in the career they are training for.
How can the state improve the delivery of its workforce services? Thankfully, there is a model available for Louisiana to emulate. Utah reformed its workforce services delivery system to incorporate true “one-stop shops” for workforce training and social safety net services under one umbrella. And they’re very effective. The integration of all workforce and social safety net programs allows individuals to access all the resources available to them—through a single application and one caseworker—to make the most of their employment readiness training while receiving various forms of temporary assistance. Since launching this in the late 1990s, Utah has achieved one of the lowest poverty rates and the highest labor force participation rate in the nation. Compare that with Louisiana, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.
The one bright spot in the Louisiana audit showed that where wrap-around services provided to participants, such as transportation and child-care, the outcomes were much greater. The participant was more likely to complete the program and more likely to gain employment at a higher level of pay, within his or her chosen career path, making more income, and able to move from the safety-net and into a life of meaningful work.
Louisiana can empower its work-capable population just like Utah, reduce poverty, and set the state on a path to thrive. It will require leadership from the next governor and legislature, tasking all agencies that serve those in need to more effectively coordinate and eventually completely integrate to achieve positive outcomes for Louisiana’s people. See the Pelican Institute’s Louisiana Comeback Agenda for more information on how Louisiana can pursue bold, transformational change that will enable its people to flourish.
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