Utah has model of state leaders to send more residents back to work

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Federal workforce programs, like the unemployment insurance system, fall short of assisting Americans during this time of crisis. Lack of major reforms over the decades means residents are served by New Deal and Great Society programs in a mobile economy in the modern era.

Federal employment and jobs training programs have been plagued with numerous problems over history, as documented in the workforce system landscape study. It provides a roadmap to recovery to provide us a policy framework for the near term to meet demand by transitioning residents to stable employment during the coronavirus recovery. However, it does not address the structural problems with our public workforce system.

A roadmap to overhauling federal employment and jobs training programs rests in the models where local leaders have collaborated to braid several sources of public funds, consolidate bureaucracies to streamline services, and implement bold customer innovations. One such model in the state of Utah stands out here and is documented in a new research report.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services administers federal programs and nearly a $1 billion budget. It manages those public funds in a manner that properly charges the correct federal programs while allocating costs as approved by the federal government. Using a federal “single state area” designation, the agency can allocate public funds across the entire state, concentrating funds necessary if any crisis occurs or an employer moves into a community then needs to hire skilled workers for new jobs.

Further, the Utah Department of Workforce Services delivers employment and jobs training services to residents in all communities in the state. Like one private sector franchise model, it is the hub that ensures services are available and supported. Such staffers at employment centers are able to provide services tailored to local labor market conditions. This is different from most states where federal funds are split among several county and city agencies and nonprofit organizations. All these bureaucracies cause confusion and time spent figuring out where to go for assistance.

Utah leaders invest significant time and effort to offer services focused on the customer experience as the foundational value. Over the past decade, the Utah legislature has merged two agencies into the Utah Department of Workforce Services, including the Office of Rehabilitation Services, better integrating services for individuals with disabilities in the state. Starting in 2007, Medicaid eligibility has also been provided by the Utah Department of Workforce Services in recognition of the link between health coverage and jobs for low income residents not eligible for employer benefits.

While interviewing officials at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, one person summed it up well by saying that doing things right takes time and effort. It also takes political capital and bold vision from state leaders. But these same officials told us this is also the right thing to do for people who need better jobs, better incomes, and hope in periods of trouble.

In this time of crisis when unemployment is a major concern for millions of Americans, state leaders should look to Utah workforce services now more than ever as a way to send their residents back in the economy.

Mason Bishop is an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He was deputy assistant secretary for employment for the Labor Department.

Tags Business Coronavirus Economics Finance Government Market Politics Utah

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