Tuesday, October 29, 2013

America’s Disconnected Youth: A Problem with a Solution Pending

There is a segment of the American population with massive, untapped potential (and one that KRA Corporation has long championed) that is approaching Depression Era-levels of unemployment—America’s disconnected youth.

An interesting report from January 2012, The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth, published by researchers from University of New York and Columbia University estimated that as many as 7 million young Americans between the ages of 16-24 were out of school and unemployed in 2011.

Dubbed “Opportunity Youth,” the researchers divide the disconnected youth into two categories: chronic (unemployed and out of school or work after the age of 16) which they estimated at 3.4 million, and under-attached (limited schooling and work experience but without tertiary education of stable employment) estimated at 3.3 million.  A more recent Measure of America report from September, 2012, estimated that one in seven in that age group are disconnected and "cost" approximately $93.7 billion in government support and lost tax revenue.

Beyond the price tag for taxpayers, there is also the societal and the individual costs to consider. With the early lack of attachment, there are often far-reaching effects. Unemployment, higher likelihood of criminal activity, and poor health at a young age result in diminished vocational experience (resulting in lowered earning potential), difficulty in finding employment after incarceration, and an inability to find employment with health insurance.

The factors contributing to disconnection are numerous. Ethnicity, disability, familial instability, sexual orientation, personal beliefs, dropping out of high school, care-giving responsibilities, and mental or health conditions are some of the more documented reasons; and, according to an article posted on the CLASP website, low-income young African-American and Latino men are most at risk.

This situation has prompted Federal action. Last year speaking to the record number of America’s disconnected youth, President Obama pointed to the need for immediate action calling it an “all-hands-on-deck moment” and launched the Summer Jobs+ program as a joint initiative between the Federal government and private business. Additionally, tax credits were made available to businesses that employed disconnected youth.

The Council for Community Solutions was tasked with determining recommendations to disconnected and issued a report Community Solutions for Opportunity Youth that was aimed at “putting every young person on a clear path to economic opportunity.”

The Department of Education’s June 2012 request for information, Strategies for Improving Outcomes for Disconnected Youth, to “create innovative and comprehensive reengagement strategies that encourage additional academic and non-academic supports and support multiple pathways to prepare disconnected youth for college and career success” further evidenced the Federal government’s commitment to finding a solution by involving key stakeholders.

There is little homogeneity as to solutions in addressing or remedying the issue of disconnected youth. It is not a one-size-fits-all cure as situations and circumstances differ significantly.  Some recommendations from the Measure of America suggest that technical or vocational technology education and certificates, associate’s degrees as well as increased intervention and on-the job training be explored as potential alternatives to a 4-year degree—an opinion explored by KRA Corporation in a previous post.

The problem persists, but there seems to be an urgency at play in identifying, developing and harnessing the promise that this underserved group offers.  The KRA Corporation team continues its nationwide efforts to address this serious problem through our WIA-funded In-School and Out-of-School Youth Services Programs. Our innovative YES (Youth Employability and Success) Programs support youth education, training, and employment through an extensive mix of services.

KRA Corporation looks forward to the future efforts and policies that Federal agencies offer in combatting this pervasive problem. Every initiative and attempt is a step closer to determining a better course of action and successful integration of this population into the workforce.  In that regard, as we have for many years in the past, KRA is proudly sponsoring the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals’ 2013 Youth Development Symposium convening now (October 28-30th)  in Chicago.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Government Open for Business Again

After 16 days of a tense stand off, a 252-144 House of Representatives and 81-18 Senate vote ended the government shutdown with President Obama signing a bill last week that reopened the government until the middle of January and effectively raised the debt ceiling until early February.

As an organization dedicated for 3 decades to employment and workforce development—preparing job seekers for tomorrow’s global economy and supplying employers with a trained and reliable workforce—KRA Corporation is pleased that those furloughed workers have returned to work.

Regarding the bill signing, and the end of the shutdown, President Obama said, "I've said it before, I'll say it again: I am willing to work with anybody, I am eager to work with anybody—Democrat or Republican, House or Senate members—on any idea that will grow our economy, create new jobs, strengthen the middle class, and get our fiscal house in order for the long term.”

However, there is some fallout caused by the furloughs. For the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the areas most affected deal with the immigration and the e-Verify processes. Website, Labor Immigration Law, believes that as a result “immigration-related services to be, at the very least, heavily backlogged for some time.”  And, Lexology is reporting that “while the DOL and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are considering temporary solutions for the affected H-1B petitions, these proceedings are in limbo.” We at KRA Corporation wish all those businesses and individuals affected by the shutdown a speedy resolution and all the best in hiring the most-qualified candidates.

As for official announcements, other than the Statement on September Employment Situation report and the posting by Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy, Kathy Martinez, addressing the importance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the official blog, Work In Progress, has remained somewhat quiet since the restart with no words or thoughts from DOL Secretary Tom Perez.

The KRA Corporation team, however, remains confident that the important work and innovative policies coming out of Secretary Perez’s office regarding workforce development will resume at the blistering pace they were before the shutdown occurred, and there will be plenty to highlight in the coming weeks.

KRA Corporation is most pleased that with the government employees back in their offices, we can get back to doing what we do best: supporting the mission of those Federal, state, and local agencies that improve the lives of individuals and strengthen the communities in which we live.



Thursday, October 17, 2013

Looking at Federal Workforce Development Positives

The recent Federal government hiatus gave us at KRA Corporation pause to reflect on and highlight some of the recent positive and innovative actions of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) related to workforce development.

After being sworn in as the newest Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez described the DOL as the “quarterback in a workforce-development system” in an interview with the Washington Post. Even though his tenure has been short, the new Secretary has had a busy period at the helm for the DOL.

A staunch advocate of workers’ rights, he has dubbed the DOL as the “department of opportunity,” speaking frequently of the “ladder of opportunity” and his dedication to the President’s move for a “better bargain for the middle class.”

Skills acquisition—enabling workers to be competitive in the 21st Century—has been a recurrent theme, and as one of the main focuses of the current administration it has received considerable resources and attention.

It was announced that another $474.5 million grant was being added to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program to aid in developing the skills infrastructure.

Secretary of Labor Perez, an active proponent of skill development, said this of its impact: “Helping people acquire new skills and access new training programs allows them to climb ladders of opportunity to secure a foothold in the middle class. Building human capital in this way is one key way to accelerate the recovery and unleash the economy’s full potential.”

Secretary Perez also saw the implementation of the $24 million Workforce Investment Fund (WIF) Pay For Success grant pilot. This innovative new initiative relies on Social investment Bonds, shifting the initial financial burden to private sector financial investment with government agencies then only paying for trackable and defined outcomes.

Disabled workers have received a much-needed boost ahead of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The finalized rule changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (promoting better affirmative action hires within government contractors) and an announcement that almost $10 million in additional funding will be made available for improved employment opportunities for disabled workers are a welcome aid to those disabled workers seeking employment and workforce equality.

New Hampshire’s at-risk 16-24 year old disconnected youth received a lift with the announcement that a Jobs Corps Center will soon be established in that state as a means to provide valuable job training to this unemployed segment of the population.

Having served all sectors of the unemployed spectrum, KRA Corporation applauds policy and program creation that provide services targeted at enhancing the skills and opportunities of all jobseekers—regardless of circumstance—to meet the demands of employers thereby providing a qualified, competitive labor pool.

As always, KRA Corporation remains resolute in our promise to prepare job seekers for tomorrow’s global economy and to supply employers with a trained and reliable workforce.  We appreciate the current efforts of all Federal agencies that aid us in this mission, and look forward to future initiatives, policies, and programs that will continue to do so.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Furloughs and Their Extended Impacts

Much has been written about the recent shutdown by the U.S. Government, including the financial plight and implications of those most affected, but the psychological impact of this action is one that does not prompt the attention it deserves.

This reduced employment cost-saving technique—increasingly popular since the recession’s effects became fully understood—has been utilized in both the public and private sector; and though the effects of furlough might have subtle differences to actual job loss, it still has serious and negative implications.

A recent 2013 Journal of Applied Psychology article, The impact of furloughs on emotional exhaustion, self-rated performance, and recovery experiences, explores how furloughs affect the emotive and post-furlough mental state as well as subsequent job performance.  Their findings indicated that beyond the stresses of income loss (something that KRA Corporation highlighted in a previous post), that a furlough triggers a loss—to varying degrees—of physical, mental, and emotional resources among employees.

The authors’ evidence suggest that a furlough’s effects reach back into the workplace with employees experiencing emotional exhaustion and performance deterioration, including a decreased ability to complete job responsibilities and an increased carelessness with company property.

A Washington Post article, Psychological effects of being furloughed, asserts that the government furlough: “sends government employees home without a paycheck, job, or an uncertain future, it shakes the foundations of employee confidence to the core.  The rug of confidence and peace of mind is yanked out from under them.”  

Author, Paul Mountjoy, goes on to say: “Loss of quality sleep, anger towards those perceived as having caused the furlough, loss of respect of leadership and loss of external and internal control called ‘locus of control’ in psychology, can affect self-esteem, self-efficacy and doubt not only in the nation’s infrastructure but self-importance as some of the federal government employees are not furloughed as deemed too important to furlough.”

Another study, Making Negative a Positive: Furloughs, Family Benefits, and Job Satisfaction by researchers Ann Huffman and Lori Muse, points to perceived break in the “psychological contract between employer and employee” and increased work overload as the two major negatives that result from a furlough.

Huffman maintains that: “Furloughs impact job attitudes, morale, and how employees regard management. Resources are needed in both private and public sectors, and they are being taken away, which can be annoying to employees.”

KRA Corporation understands the impact that loss of employment, no matter how temporary, has on individuals and families and has spent over 3 decades attempting to get those unemployed workers back into the workplace through designing and implementing innovative and award-winning programs.

KRA Corporation is empathetic to those that are currently unemployed and our team will continue to work, and effect change, for those that are jobless—both through action and policy— to help strengthen communities…one individual resident at a time.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Disabled Workers Get National Recognition, Increased Federal Aid

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Themed "Because We Are EQUAL to the Task” by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the object of the campaign is to acknowledge the abilities---the experience and expertise---that workers with challenging mental and/or physical conditions can contribute to our workforce.

In a September 30, 2013, White House Press Release, President Obama's Proclamation read, "Our Nation has always drawn its strength from the differences of our people, from a vast range of thought, experience, and ability.  Every day, Americans with disabilities enrich our communities and businesses.  They are leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators, each with unique talents to contribute and points of view to express.  During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we nurture our culture of diversity and renew our commitment to building an American workforce that offers inclusion and opportunity for all."

DOL has been active ahead of this month’s awareness push. Recently, two finalized rule changes regarding the affirmative action hiring practices of veterans—Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA)—and disabled workers—Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—by Federal contractors and subcontractors (which KRA Corporation recently highlighted in a post) were published in the Federal Register for implementation in March of 2014.

ODEP also announced that there will be an award of almost $10 million of extra funds aimed at improving the opportunity for employing people with disabilities. This additional funding will be given to “organizations managing consortia that develop models, provide technical assistance and share best practices to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.”

Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has dubbed his office as the Department of Opportunity said, “These grants will help better connect people with disabilities with employers who can greatly benefit from their skills and experience."

In another block of grant money aimed at providing education, training and employment opportunities for disabled youth and adults, eight states are set to receive nearly $18 million as part of part of the Disability Employment Initiative.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, one of three new grantees, will receive the highest award ($3 million) to “build upon American Job Center network's capacity to serve Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities.”

And, as a story of interest, the Smithsonian Institute will be running an exhibit from October through January including photography, paintings, and sculptures created by young artists from 16 to 25 with disabilities.

KRA Corporation has an extensive track record of working on a number of initiatives committed to providing information on a wide range of topics, including assistive devices, as well as materials, publications, and other resources relevant to the special needs of disabled Americans.  We appreciate the depth of effort it requires to raise awareness, as well as to change perceptions, regarding our neighbors with development and/or physical challenges.

KRA Corporation wishes ODEP all the best, not just this month, but each and every every month to come in the new Fiscal Year, and beyond.  Their efforts on behalf of people with disabilites in the workforce continue to be an important movement toward equality among workers and equitable treatment throughout the workforce development system.

D.C. "Living Wage" Bill Vetoed

The “Living Wage” bill, (as discussed by KRA Corporation in a previous post) has been the subject of heated debate in the nation’s capital. It was recently defeated when Washington D.C. Mayor, Vincent C. Gray vetoed the bill. In detailing the reason for the veto, Mayor Gray described it as a “job killer”.  The subsequent D.C. council vote to try and override the veto failed when only seven of nine Council members voted against the measure.

Opponents to the bill—known as the Large Retailer Accountability Act—felt the criteria placed on particular larger corporations was unfair and likely to keep businesses out of D.C., while supporters pointed to the increasing difficulty for area residents to make ends meet considering D.C.’s low-wage employment.

The bill has drawn some attention, and some intense discourse, from quarters across the country. The debate over the need to increase jobs as a means to stimulate the economy versus the quality of life that these low-wage jobs will ultimately offer has sparked impassioned sentiments with the benefits of employers and employees being put at odds.

The topic of minimum wage has been one that continues to make headlines around the country (as monitored by KRA Corporation in earlier posts). President Obama has come out strongly in favor of raising the Federal minimum wage, calling on Congress to do so, stating that  “no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.”

Minimum wage increases continue to raise concerns about how business will be negatively impacted and that it can have the same job-killing results that Mayor Gray quoted.

Department of Labor Secretary, Tom Perez— who has championed the cause of raising the minimum wage since taking office—used the official blog Work in Progress, to address those concerns and to believing that an increase represents a “fair shake” and a vision that “the middle class is within reach no matter who you are or where you come from.”

Furthering discourse, and/or at the very least heightening awareness, regarding the plight of those living on minimum wage in an attempt to move closer toward employment-and-earning equality is a position that KRA Corporation fully endorses.

Despite Mayor Gray's veto, as an organization operating two TANF Employment Programs for the D.C. Department of Human Services, KRA's Corporations's mission continues to be rooted in preparing D.C job seekers for tomorrow’s global economy, and supplying area employers with a trained and reliable workforce.  Our efforts in D.C workforce development remain committed to improving the lives of individuals and their communities.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pay For Success Program Piloted with Grants Awarded to NY, MA

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has announced the award of almost $24 million dollars in Pay For Success (PFS) grants through the Workforce Investment Fund (WIF).  The initial solicitation for $20 million in PFS funds was increased to include fiscal years 2012 and 2013 funds due to the quality of the applications.

This is in addition to the $147 million of WIF grants that were awarded earlier this year ”to develop and expand innovative strategies to help Americans return to work.”

In a recent post, Paying For Success: A Potential Future Funding Model for Workforce Development, KRA Corporation highlighted the program, looking at some of the benefits and costs associated with the model.

The grant money—to be split almost evenly between the N.Y. Department of Labor ($12,000,000) and the Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce Development ($11,670,000)—is earmarked for the improvement the employment outcomes and to attempt to reduce recidivism rates of formerly incarcerated individuals.

The PFS model has gained traction in recent years in programs around the world through the issuing of Social Impact Bonds wherein multiple stakeholders are involved in financing social programs with government agencies paying once track-able outcomes have been achieved.

The shift of financial responsibility from public to private sector revenue streams is becoming more popular of a model and some think more viable, too.

DOL Secretary Tom Perez said of the program: "At a time when all levels of government are experiencing cutbacks, Pay for Success offers a new approach to strategically leverage resources to provide essential services for vulnerable populations through programs with measurable success rates."

Secretary Perez went on to dub the program as “a promising strategy for expanding effective programs while ensuring maximum return on taxpayer dollars." A major component of this new model is the rigor with which the program and their results will be evaluated.

KRA Corporation can fully appreciate the necessity for innovative and far-reaching programmatic advances in the rapidly evolving workforce development arena. With an economy that is still gridlocked, sustainability and measurable outcomes take on even more importance.

Still in its fledgling state, the PFS model will have to show that it can be a viable model with the goal of developing the most effective strategies in workforce development (through expanding the body of knowledge), while investing taxpayer dollars more wisely, spending them only on those outcomes deemed successful by independent evaluators.

KRA Corporation salutes the work of the DOL as well as those stakeholders willing to lend their support—both financial and philosophical—to the future of workforce development.  We will continue to remain at the forefront of workforce development, and look forward to following the progress of this new PFS program model.