Employment and Training:
Labor's Green Jobs Efforts Highlight Challenges of Targeted Training Programs for Emerging Industries
GAO-13-555: Published: Jun 19, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2013.
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What GAO Found
Of the $595 million identified by Labor as having been appropriated or allocated specifically for green jobs activities since 2009, approximately $501 million went toward efforts with training and support services as their primary objective, with much of that funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). Because the Recovery Act directed federal agencies to spend funds quickly and prudently, Labor implemented a number of high-investment green jobs efforts simultaneously. As a result, in some cases, Recovery Act training programs were initiated prior to a full assessment of the demand for green jobs, which presented challenges for grantees. While Labor's internal agencies initially communicated with each other and with other federal agencies after the Recovery Act was passed, most Recovery Act grants have ended or are winding down.
Labor created its green jobs definitional framework to provide local flexibility, and grantees we interviewed broadly interpreted Labor's framework to include any job that could be linked, directly or indirectly, to a beneficial environmental outcome. Labor's training data show most participants were trained in construction or manufacturing. While the findings of our site visits are not generalizable, all grantees we interviewed said they had worked closely with local employers to align their training program with the green skills needs of local employers. Most grantees we interviewed also told us they had incorporated green elements into existing training programs aimed at traditional skills, such as teaching weatherization as part of a carpentry training program.
The outcomes of Labor's green jobs training programs remain uncertain, in part because data on final outcomes were not yet available for about 40 percent of grantees, as of the end of 2012. Analysis of grantees with final outcome data shows they collectively reported training slightly more individuals than they had projected, but job placements were at 55 percent of the target. Training-related job placement rates remain unknown because Labor's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found these data unreliable. Grantees we interviewed were generally positive about Labor's green job training programs, but most said they had faced challenges during implementation, including: (1) a lack of reliable green jobs labor market information, (2) insufficient time to meet grant requirements, (3) knowledge gaps surrounding green skills and changing energy policies, and (4) difficulty placing participants into green jobs, primarily due to the overall poor economy.
Labor has provided technical assistance and taken steps to monitor green jobs training grantees through on-site monitoring visits and quarterly reviews. During these visits and reviews, Labor officials assessed grantee performance, such as by comparing reported program outcomes, including job placements, to targeted performance levels. However, Labor provided only limited guidance on how to document reported job placements. Labor officials required grantees with lower than projected performance levels to implement corrective action plans. In addition, Labor officials told us they have taken steps to improve the quality of grantee reported data, such as by forming an internal workgroup to identify ways to improve the technical assistance they provide to grantees on reporting performance outcomes.
Why GAO Did This Study
Labor received $500 million from the Recovery Act to help create, better understand, and provide training for jobs within the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries, commonly referred to as "green jobs." Since 2009, Labor has also "greened" existing programs and funded additional green jobs training grants and other efforts.
In light of the amount of funding targeted to green programs within Labor, GAO examined: (1) what is known about the objectives and coordination of Labor's green jobs efforts, (2) what type of green jobs training grantees provided and how selected grantees aligned their training to meet employers' green jobs needs, (3) what is known about program outcomes and what challenges, if any, grantees faced in implementing their programs, and (4) what Labor has done to assist and monitor its green jobs grantees. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations; surveyed selected offices within Labor using two questionnaires--one for directly- funded green jobs efforts and one for other efforts; interviewed Labor officials and 11 out of 103 green jobs training grantees; and analyzed relevant Labor documents and data.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that Labor identify lessons learned from the green jobs training programs to enhance its ability to implement such programs in emerging industries. Labor agreed with our recommendation.
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Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: The Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration(ETA) administered the Green Jobs and Health Care Impact Evaluation, a five-year study of four selected grantees funded by the Green Jobs Pathways Out of Poverty grant initiative and the Health Care and Other High Growth and Emerging Industries grant initiative. In January 2017, ETA made the report publicly available on its website (http://wdr.doleta.gov/research/eta_default.cfm). Concurrently, ETA released an advisory announcing the release of the evaluation that was emailed to the public workforce system and others who sign up for the e-mail subscription service. The evaluation found that all four grantee programs had positive impacts during the 18-month follow-up period on participation in vocational training; receipt of training-related supports, particularly financial assistance to attend the training, career counseling and job placement assistance; and the receipt of vocational credentials. However, only one grantee was found to have statistically significant positive impacts on employment and earnings. Lessons learned from the implementation study included (1) the importance of vigorous recruitment of individuals via a variety of techniques and media, and (2) training length and the availability of supportive services affected attendance and completion rates for the targeted population. The study found that for the grantees evaluated, providing support services, not just occupational training, was critical to engaging a hard-to-serve population. Finally, the study noted that working with employers was another important program element and that a substantial commitment on the part of grantees was required to maintain these relationships throughout the grant period.
Recommendation: To enhance Labor's ability to implement training programs in emerging industries, the Secretary of Labor should identify lessons learned from implementing the green jobs training programs. This could include: (1) Identifying challenges and promising strategies associated with training workers for emerging industries--through both targeted grant programs and existing programs--and considering ways to improve such efforts in the future. For example, taking a more measured or multi-phased approach could allow the time necessary to better determine demand for an emerging industry and establish the partnerships needed to properly align training with available jobs. (2) Taking steps to ensure training programs adequately document outcome variables, particularly for targeted programs where tracking training relatedness is of particular interest
Agency Affected: Department of Labor