Workforce Training:

Employed Worker Programs Focus on Business Needs, but Revised Performance Measures Could Improve Access for Some Workers

GAO-03-353: Published: Feb 14, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 2003.

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Although training for employed workers is largely the responsibility of employers and individuals, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) allowed state and local entities to use federal funds for training employed workers. Similarly, welfare reform legislation created Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants and gave states greater flexibility to design training services for TANF clients to help them obtain and retain jobs. To better understand how the training needs of employed workers, including low-wage workers, is publicly supported, GAO was asked to determine (1) the extent to which local areas and states provide assistance to train employed workers, including funding training; (2) the focus of such training efforts and the kind of training provided; and (3) when targeting training to low-wage workers, the approaches state and local officials identified to address challenges in training this population.

Nationwide, two-thirds of the 470 local workforce boards responding to our survey provided assistance to train employed workers, such as partnering with employers to develop training proposals or funding training. Nearly 40 percent specifically budgeted or spent funds on training these workers. The number of boards that reported funding training for employed workers varied by state, but most states had at least one workforce board that targeted funds on such training. At the state level, all 16 states that GAO contacted also funded training for employed workers. These states and local workforce boards reported funding training that addressed specific business and economic needs. Although many types of training for employed workers were funded, most often occupational training to upgrade skills, such as learning new computer applications, and basic skills training, such as in English and math, were emphasized and community or technical colleges were most frequently used to provide these services. In targeting training specifically for low-wage workers, state and local officials identified approaches to challenges that hindered individuals' and employers' participation in training. Officials developed approaches to address some of the personal issues that low-wage workers face that made participating in training difficult. They also developed ways to gain support from employers who were reluctant to participate in low-wage worker training, such as by partnering with employers to develop career paths that help retain employees within companies. However, officials reported that challenges to implementing successful training still exist. For example, they explained that the WIA performance measure that tracks the change in adult earnings after 6 months could limit training opportunities for employed workers, including low-wage workers. The wage gain for employed workers would not likely be as great as that for unemployed job seekers, and this might provide a disincentive to enrolling employed workers into training because their wage gain may negatively affect program performance.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor has reviewed the WIA performance measures and, effective July 1, 2006, the agency is measuring the average 6 months earnings of individuals who are employed after program completion. This definition has been applied as the earnings measure for many Labor workforce programs, including WIA adults, WIA dislocated workers, and others. In June 2007, Labor also released new performance measures for the Senior Community Service Employment Program that eliminated a disincentive to serving seniors with work experience: federal officials determined that using a measure that focused on the change in earnings provided a disincentive to serving people with previous work experience, especially those with higher pre-program wages.

    Recommendation: To improve the use of WIA funds for employed worker training, the Secretary of Labor should review the current WIA performance measure for change in adult average earnings to ensure that this measure does not provide disincentives for serving employed workers. For example, Labor might consider having separate average earnings gains measures for employed workers and unemployed workers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor


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