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A More Accountable Workforce Development System

Center for an Urban Future - COMMENTARY/OP-ED – DECEMBER 2013, by Christian González-Rivera

“New York’s prosperity, today and in the years to come, will largely depend on the quality of its workforce. That’s why the state spends billions of dollars each year on educating and training future workers through the PK-12 system, public colleges and universities, workforce development programs and adult literacy programs. However, very little is known about how effective these programs are in moving participants into careers with life-sustaining wages. This is not because of a lack of information, but because state law has traditionally prevented most local agencies and education providers from using wage data from the Federal Unemployment Insurance (UI) program to track the progress of graduates. A new law going into effect in 2014 gives local workforce agencies, community colleges, school districts and others the right to access this data for the first time. This is a huge step forward for the state’s human capital system. Among other things, it will allow individuals and policymakers alike to understand which educational and workforce development programs are producing the best outcomes for participants. With this information, New Yorkers would be able to enroll in the workforce development programs that have a proven record of success, while state and local officials could better align limited public resources with the most successful programs. But to make the most of this opportunity and bring New York State practices in line with what other states are doing, Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature should go beyond merely providing access to UI data and give local agencies and providers the expertise and administrative capacity they need to effectively use this data.  The vast majority of agencies and providers across the state, particularly outside of New York City, have never used UI data before, or created and interpreted the longitudinal studies that incorporate it. And according to experts we interviewed for this policy brief, creating effective program assessments requires significant IT capacity and scientific expertise, in addition to any up-front costs of redesigning programs based on their results. New York would do well to follow the examples of several states, including Florida, Maryland and Washington, that have overcome these obstacles by creating a statewide office and data warehouse that could help local agencies and providers conduct and interpret their own assessments. This would allow all agencies regardless of size equal access to program evaluation while allaying privacy concerns around individual wage information. It may also open the door to smarter state-level economic development strategies that build coherently off of regional human capital assets.”

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