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Reconnecting, Preparing Youth for Workforce Major Focus at Conference of Mayors Workforce Development Council Winter Meeting

By Megan Cardiff
January 28, 2013

Reducing youth unemployment and connecting young people to jobs is a major focus for The U.S. Conference of Mayors Workforce Development Council (WDC) in the upcoming year. The WDC’s newly elected President Marléna Sessions, CEO of the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County, stressed the importance of cities meeting the employment and workforce needs of people facing barriers to employment—particularly youth, economically disadvantaged individuals, dislocated works and returning veterans.

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) Director of Youth Policy Linda Harris, who played a key role in establishing Communities Collaborating to Reconnect Youth (CCRY) Network, joined WDC members to discuss the CCRY Network and benefits of partnering with them. The CCRY Network joins together multiple workforce and youth development professionals to engage in successful peer-to-peer exchange among local communities in cross'system collaboration for high-risk youth.

“The CCRY Network is an opportunity for the WDC and mayors to be key voices in prioritizing youth as our future workforce,” said Harris. Through this network, mayors and workforce development professionals, as local community leaders, can build on the work already occurring within their own city to increase the thinking and decisions of federal legislators and policymakers on behalf of high-risk youth.

“About ten percent of all high schools produce more than 40 percent of the nation’s dropouts and in today’s workforce 60 percent of adults who dropped out of high school are unemployed,” said General Manager of Community Development Department for Los Angeles Greg Irish. Chronic absence, even in kindergarten, is a strong indicator of future dropouts and in the Los Angeles Unified School District, one in ten students is chronically absent.

Community Development Department for Los Angeles Assistant General Manager Robert Sainz and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Director of Pupil Services Debra Duardo joined Irish on a panel presenting what the city has done to combat chronic absence and establish a high school recovery system.

The LAUSD, in partnership with Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board and Community Development Department, opened 13 new YouthSource Centers and a redesigned student recovery system within the city. All 13 centers are in operation with LAUSD and nearly 1,500 out-of'school youth have one-on-one academic assessments. The partnership has received a Department of Labor Workforce Investment Fund grant to serve an additional 1,200 high school drop-outs based on the model.

In addition to their focus on youth employment services, WDC members heard from Microsoft Corporation Senior Director for Education and Workforce Bill Kamela, Department of Veteran Affairs Deputy Under'secretary for Economic Opportunity Curt Coy, and Department of Labor Director of National Programs Ruth Samardick on ways workforce professionals can put veteran’s back to work.

As veteran employment programs are developed, we need to keep in the back of our minds that 76 percent of veterans over the age of 35 are the ones who make up unemployed veterans—the average ‘unemployed veteran’ is not the young 20'something that most people assume. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 is one of the pieces of legislation being implemented that assists veterans, essentially doubling the number of people put through the transition program. The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) provides veterans with up to 12 months of additional education benefits toward achievement of a higher degree.

Samardick emphasized the role of one'stops in providing priority service to all veterans. Local veterans employment representatives do outreach to make sure veterans are integrated into the system and receive priority. She also discussed the Homeless Veterans Reintegration program, which are formula grants to states that fund positions in one'stop career centers.

Through their own survey, Microsoft learned that veterans weren’t receiving a lot of hands-on training and some of these veterans need better training to develop the proper skill sets. Microsoft developed a voucher program—providing 10,000 vouchers for certain populations to figure out what the required skills are that they will need and help them obtain these skills. “We focused on strengthening local leadership connections. We don’t have all the answers and the expertise, so we talked to experts in different areas. We don’t have the answer or the best model, so we need to identify the best people out there, give them the money and provide them the support and guidance,” stated Kamela.

Holland and Knight Partner Robert Bradner provided the council with details on the recent fiscal cliff deal and possible outcomes of sequestration, debt ceiling and appropriations legislations. “We have increasingly gotten into the business of not doing appropriations bills on time and using continuing resolutions (CR) to temporarily fund the government,” Bradner said.

Senior Labor Policy Advisor for the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce Livia Lam gave an update on Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization, stating that Chairman John Kline (MN) and Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (NC) will likely reintroduce the Workforce Investment Improvement Act (HR 4297) in the new congress. Congressman’s George Miller (CA) and John Tierney (MA) will reintroduce the Democratic alternative to the Republican WIA reauthorization bill.