Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Youth CareerConnect Grants Give Skills Initiative Additional Boost

The Obama administration has taken another step toward making good on its promise to help better prepare students entering the workforce, as well as ensuring that the U.S workforce can compete globally, by announcing $100 million dollars to fund Youth CareerConnect  Grants.

This competitive grant—using money from the H1-B visa program—offers awards of between $2-$7 million for 25-40 education agencies, public or non-profit local workforce entities, or non-profits with education reform experience involved in individual or multi-site projects.

It is reassuring that the commitments made are being honored by lawmakers, and KRA Corporation applauds the continued investment in the upcoming generation of young workers, as well as providing a viable platform for forward-thinking solutions to workforce development.

As an organization that pioneered the YES (Youth Employability & Success) Program as part of its comprehensive WIA Youth Services operations, KRA Corporation advocates for any program that will provide relevant education, training, and work-readiness programs for the at-risk youth population benefitting the individual, businesses, and overall economic growth.

An increasing number of high school students lack exposure to meaningful links between secondary and postsecondary education or available career paths. This new initiative is modeled after career and technical education programs (like P-TECH) whose programs are operated in collaboration with corporations, folding in certifications (in the form of Associates Degrees) with basic requirements for entry-level employment within the sponsoring corporation.

According to the DOLETA fact sheet, this program is designed to increase the flow of prepared workers into the system through five combined principles: Integrated Academic and Career-Focused Learning, Work-Based Learning and Exposure to the World of Work, Robust Employer Engagement, Individualized Career and Academic Counseling and Integration of Post-secondary Education and Training.

According to Politico, the program has received a frosty reception from some education groups who have concerns about the limiting scope that the competitive nature of the granting process will have on schools. The inaccessibility by some rural schools that do not have grant writers nor some of the basic criteria for eligibility due to location and size was another sticking point.

It has also drawn criticism from inside the government for bypassing support from associated lawmakers, and its seemingly direct competition with the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program (which is up for reauthorization), thereby adding a different and potentially confusing level to the system.

KRA Corporation understands that bringing projects to the scale of magnitude that this program requires to be deemed successful is a difficult proposition. However, we remain optimistic that these grants could represent a necessary step toward youth employment and global competitiveness, as well as a boost for the economy in the future.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Difference in Getting Paid

As a company that has dedicated more than 30 years to improving the lives of individuals and strengthening the communities in which we live, KRA Corporation cast an intrigued eye over two interesting articles—both of which dealt with disparities in what workers have traditionally gotten paid—from the different DOL departments in the official blog, Work in Progress.

Most interesting was the scope of focus regarding how the various tiers of payment practices and the discrepancies that exist have affected workers among certain groups. As many strides have been made in creating parity in the workforce since the turn of the 20th century, KRA Corporation recognizes that there remain some glaring gaps that will have to be tackled before a level and equitable playing field can exist.

The first article, Keeping the Promise of Opportunity, by Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, took a highline approach to addressing an issue that has been on the workforce radar as high up as the Oval Office—increasing the federal minimum wage. It is something that he sees as “part of a larger struggle to cut poverty and to address the challenge of income inequality.”

This is an issue that has drawn criticism from many detractors but one that President Obama (dubbing it “unfinished business”) has openly supported and which remains a hot topic issue on Capitol Hill—so much so that Lauren Fox of U.S. News believes it is a powerful enough issue that it will be used for political leverage in 2014.

The second article, Women of Color: An Economic Snapshot, penned by acting director of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau, Latifa Lyles, offers an interesting and more granular look at a particular segment of the workforce that is directly impacted by disparities in equality within the payment structure—women of color.

The statistical analysis of the differences details just how marked a gap there is in earnings, despite similar capabilities. Noting the positive steps that are being taken to narrowing that earnings margin, it remains staggering to see just how disparate of scale that exists between genders and then even more so between races.

Both articles highlight the breadth and depth of the issues surrounding pay scale discrepancies in the workforce. It is a concern that will require a concerted and focused effort—at both a company and Federal level—in creating an equitable balance among members of the U.S. workforce.

KRA Corporation advocates for equality in all facets of workforce development, both in earning and equitable treatment among all members constituting the workforce, and our team will continue to support the efforts of those changing the status quo at a policy level.  We offer our sincerest thanks to those companies that further the move toward payment equality as a standard practice.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

U.S. Department of Labor Carries On Its Work

It is reassuring to see that it is business as usual around the halls of the Department of Labor (DOL), which has picked up right where it left off after the temporary shutdown, with last week proving to be very productive for the agency.

Labor Secretary Perez offered his opinions on the employment figures for October (which continue to move in a healthy direction). In his characteristic uncompromising fashion, the Secretary took a very outspoken approach on actions by the government that he feels have hindered forward progress in social and employment equity, as well as hurting the overall cause of workforce development.

The Secretary remained critical of the recent government shutdown stating “The American people deserve leadership that focuses on growing the economy—not holding it hostage.”

KRA Corporation remains firm in its support of those who champion the plight of the U.S. workforce, and as such we appreciate the Secretary’s resolute commitment to that workforce, as well as his endeavors to keep its development and new initiatives moving forward.

The Senate also recently passed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that has drawn criticisms from different and sometimes unexpected quarters. If signed into law, this bill promises to offer protection and safeguards to all employees regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity—specific protections that to date are non-existent in Federal civil-rights law.

As this relates to equitable treatment in the workplace, KRA Corporation is pleased to see the passage of this bill into the House of Representatives as a step forward to workplaces that are fairly and equally represented.

Although not directly related to current events in workforce development, KRA Corporation is pleased to observe that the DOL remains current in ensuring that every opportunity for the U.S. workforce is made available by highlighting some of those rungs on the ladder to success that might otherwise be missed.

A recent post on the Work in Progress blog discussed the importance of employees taking responsibility for their own financial future by heeding some of the warning signs that their retirement savings might be in jeopardy.

The post highlights five examples, which could indicate that a 401(k) plan is not being managed correctly or is being abused. It even goes as far as to point those who feel that they are not being best served towards the assistance they need.

KRA Corporation applauds the DOL’s impressive output since the shutdown and especially the steps taken in regard to increased equity for all stakeholders and members in the workforce. With the strides being taken, we anticipate that workforce development efforts should yield some very exciting and bold outcomes in the very near future for employers and employees alike.



Friday, November 15, 2013

Our Veterans: Opportunities to Serve Beyond the Military

Veterans Day prompted a buzz in the Department of Labor (DOL), with the agency highlighting the legislation that was passed this year, as well as the existing resources available to this important workforce group.

KRA Corporation believes that—after youth employment programming—our veterans are the most important group in public workforce policy and so we are heartened to see that the DOL’s commitment to improving the employment plight of U.S. veterans remains consistent.

Ensuring that veterans get access to employment programs and initiatives is something in which Secretary of Labor Perez has taken a personal interest, overseeing the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service program to help veterans find civilian jobs.

It is indeed an alarming statistic that in 2012 there were estimates of as many as 62,000 homeless veterans, while in 2011 a reported 900,000 ex-servicemen and women relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to sustain themselves and their dependents.

In his recent blog post, Secretary Perez pointed to the existing programs that are designed specifically to help veterans return to civilian life and find sustainable jobs in an effort to combat the reported high rates of unemployment (upwards of 20% among veterans between ages 18-24).

Programs like Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP (which KRA Corporation highlighted in a post), the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), and the additional help provided specifically for veterans at American Job Centers (still known as One-Stop Career Centers in some sectors) around the U.S. all aim to address and overcome the barriers that re-entry into civilian life can present.

The First and Second Ladies have also lent their efforts through the Joining Forces program. This program rallies support from all quarters of society to provide resources that target employment, education and continuing health opportunities for active and past military and their families.

The update to the Family Medical Leave Act, relating to continued benefits and extended leaves of absence for family members caring for returning military personnel injured in conflict and deployment-related considerations, is further evidence that the DOL is committed to the needs of servicemen and women beyond simply helping to find employment.

Principal deputy administrator for the Wage and Hour Division, Laura Fortman, perhaps mirrored KRA Corporation’s sentiments best regarding both our military personnel and employees when she said: “No one should have to choose between the job they need and caring for the family that needs them.”

Our military personnel made the choice to serve their country, and deserve our thanks and our respect. Their service also translates into invaluable skills and attributes that are of great use in the civilian workforce.

KRA Corporation will continue to focus our experience and efforts on helping to serve a vital part of the U.S. workforce and ensure that our military personnel receive the peacetime support and opportunities they need to succeed in the civilian workforce.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sector-driven Workforce Development…Is it Working?

KRA Corporation looks at sector-based employment and training as a much-needed  approach for some local workforce and economic development systems…

Ten years ago, then President George W. Bush laid out what his administration considered a “groundbreaking approach for closing employment skills gaps.”  In his address, he stated “The High Growth Job Training Initiative…is aiming to give workers the skills they need to realize their dreams. It’s a collaborative effort to help team up people with the jobs that are needed, to make sure that the changes in our economy don’t leave people behind.”

Subsequently, the Department of Labor (DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA) website reported, “This initiative represents the first step in a series of actions…to engage business, education and the workforce investment system to work together to develop solutions to the workforce challenges facing high growth industries.

Fields like health care, information technology, and advanced manufacturing have jobs and solid career paths left open due to a lack of people qualified to fill them.  The High Growth Job Training Initiative  targets education and skills development resources toward helping workers gain the skills they need to build successful careers in these and other growing industries.”

The report continued, “To put this approach into action, ETA identified 14 sectors that fit within the following criteria: (1) they are projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy or affect the growth of other industries; or (2) they are existing or emerging businesses being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new skills sets for workers."  The 14 sectors identified are: Advanced Manufacturing, Aerospace, Automotive, Biotechnology, Construction, Energy, Financial Services, Geospatial Technology, Health Care, Homeland Security, Hospitality, Information Technology, Retail, and Transportation.

The report concluded, “The High Growth Job Training Initiative [HGJTI] continues to invest in national models and demonstrations of workforce solutions in these sectors designed to achieve the following outcomes: Targeted investment of workforce development resources and support for private and public sector partnerships to ensure the development of workers’ skills in occupations where industry has identified needs [and] Increased integration of community and technical college efforts with business and the public workforce system activities to meet the skills training needs of high growth industries.”

By expanding local workforce systems’---i.e., Workforce Investment Boards through which many KRA programs are funded---capacity (1) to contribute  to the economic development of the community, (2) to be market-driven, and (3) to be responsive to local workforce needs, DOL/ETA promotes economic competitiveness, enhanced productivity, and true workforce quality through HGJTI programming.

Through the operation of its One-Stop Career Center Programs, KRA Corporation continually encourages employers operating in high-growth sectors to use Apprenticeships, Occupational Skills Training, and On-the-Job Training Programs as viable skills-development resources to ensure themselves a pipeline of skilled workers, which in turn, provides workers with career enhancing opportunities in high-growth sector occupations.

In future Workforce&Government articles, KRA Corporation will take a look at both grant- and contract-funded DOL/ETA programs designed to provide training opportunities in those industries identified as high-growth employment business sectors, as well as a healthcare-sector opportunity grant program funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.  We will also explore some State's initiatives---Full Employment Programs---and the role they play in assisting employers to train workers that are needed to fill employment gaps in targeted sectors.

KRA Corporation will continue to leverage its 30+ years’ experience in program development, management, and operation to assist our employer-customers in high-growth sectors, while still ensuring that all jobseeker-customers are equitably served according to their individual needs.  In this way, we continue to prepare job seekers for tomorrow’s global economy and to supply employers with a trained and reliable workforce.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Make it in America Challenge Grants Aim at Economic Growth, Job Creation

KRA Corporation explores the new Obama Administration initiative designed to create projects that aid in accelerated job creation and increased business investment in the manufacturing sector.

The winners of the Make it in America Challenge were announced recently with the 10 grantees receiving a combined total of $20,533,409 for “projects supporting regional economic development, advanced skills training, greater supply chain access and other enhancements.”

The grant winners submitted applications for projects that “help distressed regions build on existing assets, promote a competitive environment for foreign-owned and domestic firms to establish and grow their U.S. operations, create jobs and develop a skilled workforce for specific industries.”

The Make it in America Challenge—a jointly-funded effort aiding programs whose aim is to keep, expand, or reshore U.S.-based manufacturing operations, as well as attracting foreign business investment—is an attempt to develop and explore sustainable and means of capitalizing on the recent resurgence in the manufacturing sector (with reported figures of over half a million jobs created in this industry).

The initiative looks to strengthen the economy and build on the manufacturing sector’s recent success by convincing both international and domestic businesses to either build and/or expand their U.S. operations. By encouraging U.S companies to reshore or expand domestic facilities, and attracting new international business investment and operations, job creation—and skilled jobs at that—will be accelerated further.

Secretary Perez, speaking to the initiative said: "in an increasingly sophisticated economy, equipping workers with the skills they need to succeed on the job isn't just a workforce development issue, but also an economic development issue and the partnerships funded through these Make it in America Challenge grants are helping to lead the way."

As a company dedicated to leading workforce development into the future, KRA Corporation appreciates the emphasis placed on the need for strategies and programs that equip workers with the requisite skills that, not only provide businesses with a trained and capable worker, but also the ability to adapt and succeed into the future.

As part of the initiative, the Department of Commerce published an informational tool, the Assess Costs Everywhere (ACE), which highlights the associated costs and risks of offshore production as well as providing links to resources (public and private) to help better inform and guide companies in their decision making process as to locating offshore.

KRA Corporation salutes this bold multi-layered effort to bring companies back to the U.S. as well as attracting foreign investment onshore in an effort to stimulate the economy and aid in new job creation the same time.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

DOL Steams Ahead After Shutdown

After 16 days of being shut down, it only took the Department of Labor (DOL) a week to hit the ground running, announcing grants and measures furthering workforce development in many sectors and addressing worker safety.

Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, was critical of the government shutdown dubbing it “a divisive struggle that inflicted unnecessary wounds on the economy.” In a news release regarding the September employment figures, one which boasted the 43rd consecutive month of growth and one in which average hourly wage increased 3 cents, Secretary Perez made his feelings known.

In the release, he spoke of a “modest pace” in America’s “road to recovery” maintaining that economic uncertainty was a reality even prior to the government shutdown (what he deemed a “standoff”) and that “this avoidable confrontation was exactly what an economy on the mend did not need”.

KRA Corporation understands and appreciates Secretary Perez’s concerns regarding the potential and as yet unseen fallout regarding the lost 16 days. However, we are encouraged to see that the DOL continues ahead at full steam in trying to determine the most effective means to develop all facets and members of the U.S. workforce, while remaining vigilant on behalf of those in the workforce.

Recently, the current administration awarded $20.5 million in grants for  Make it in America Challenge—an initiative that backs the push for accelerated and increased job creation through “regional economic development, advanced skills training, greater supply chain access and other enhancements.”

In addressing increased worker safety, the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration also recently launched two new web-based resources. The first, a toolkit, offers employers a step-by-step guide to hazardous chemical substitution, while the second—the Annotated Permissible Exposure Limits (or PEL tables)—helps employers to adopt updated exposure limits aimed at offering more protection to employees.

Additionally, it was announced that the Department of Education has awarded almost $5million in research project and program development grants to five institutions to improve the lives of disabled Americans. The ultimate aim of the grants is intended to “fulfill the goal of inclusion, integration, employment and self-sufficiency of people with disabilities.”

KRA Corporation is heartened by the fact that the DOL is back in the saddle again and despite the setbacks continues to add rungs to the “ladder of opportunity” in trying to aid job growth and development as well as protecting and safeguarding the American workforce.

KRA Corporation remains confident that this administration will see the benefit of approaching workforce development as a vital cog in economic development and look to further it accordingly. The KRA Corporation team remains focused on assisting in the advancement of current, and new, innovative and far-reaching programs that prepare job seekers for tomorrow’s global economy and supply employers with a trained and reliable workforce.