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2008 in Review

Open letter from Workforce Board Executive Director Eleni Papadakis
to the Workforce Board members:

January 7, 2009

New Year’s Greetings Workforce Board Members:

In a rather tumultuous time of year—holidays, weather craziness, even crazier economy—I wanted to take few minutes to thank you for all your hard work throughout 2008.  As always, you’ve worked through a quick-paced, multi-faceted agenda that covered a wide breadth of issues affecting our diverse constituencies.  It’s hard to keep track of all that the Workforce Board accomplishes each year, so I offer this brief recap to highlight those accomplishments and to set the stage for your upcoming work in 2009.

In addition to your statutory responsibilities under Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE), the Private Vocational School Act, and your on-going obligations as the performance accountability agent for Washington’s workforce development system, you helped shape the debate on a number of important issues that the state was grappling with:

  • Center for Nursing Master Plan – While you were in agreement with the lion’s share of the plan, which aims to increase the number of nurses available to work in Washington while improving the quality of patient care and safety, you took issue with the proposal to require that the criteria for entry into the field be raised from an associate’s to a bachelor’s degree.  As you pointed out, this would decrease the number of nurses entering the field.  There was no evidence that the thousands of associate degree nurses practicing in Washington are not qualified to perform well on the job, and in fact, nurses prepared by our community and technical colleges pass the nurse licensing exam at higher rates than 4-year degree nursing students.
  • Private Vocational School Licensing – You asked that a new, more stringent set of policies be developed in an effort to prevent schools from closing, or to provide more notice to the state and students when a school is forced to close.  Workforce Board staff, working with our Private Vocational School advisory committee, implemented a comprehensive monitoring plan, with procedures that involve fiscal stability reviews, site visits, and student interviews.  They have also implemented a “secret shopper” program, and more detailed policing procedures to deal quickly with schools that are alleged to be out of compliance with licensing requirements.  A subcommittee of the advisory committee is also working with staff on a new set of policies and procedures to handle on-line career education programs.  This may result in a proposal to the Board on statutory or regulatory changes in 2009.
  • The Meaningful High School Diploma – You weighed in heavily on the State Board of Education’s (SBE) development of new high school graduation requirements.  As a result of your efforts, the SBE highlighted the importance of applied learning opportunities for all students, and included CTE and other career concentration coursework as a key element in a meaningful high school experience.
  • Basic Education Finance – You recommended to the Basic Education Task Force that they include in their proposal to the legislature funding for a comprehensive career guidance program based on the Navigation 101 model, improved funding for career and technical education, improved coordination and enhanced funding for at-risk students and dropouts, and additional funds to support the “CORE 24” proposal. 
  • Apprenticeship – You encouraged greater collaboration between the apprenticeship and larger workforce development system, which resulted in an enhanced partnership between L&I apprenticeship staff and the many of the state’s WorkSource Centers. You also endorsed a budget request from L&I that would expand the apprenticeship infrastructure and encourage more employers to embrace the apprenticeship model.
  • Skills for the Next Washington – You supported the creation of a framework for greater collaboration between workforce and economic development.  You put forth a no-cost policy request package that will put the key concepts of the framework into state statute.  The request was accepted by the governor and is being sponsored in the legislature by Senator Derek Kilmer (D-Pierce County), and Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney (D-Seattle).  You also recommended, and the governor approved, a new High Skills High Wages Fund—an expansion of the Skill Panel concept, which uses $950,000 of WIA 10 Percent Funds to spur economic and workforce development coordination at the local level. 
  • Life Long Learning Accounts – With a small grant from CAEL, the Workforce Board has coordinated a task force that has been exploring the feasibility of a Washington LILA program, which would enable employers and employees to jointly invest in education and training options for the employee-account holders. A pilot initiative is underway in the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development region that will help us test the model further.
  • Older Youth Unemployment – In 2007, an unemployment rate among 18–24 year olds that was twice that of 25–65 year olds led the Workforce Board to dig deeper into the data to understand this disparity.  The legislature passed SB 6261 asking us to dig deeper still, to find promising practices from around the world and to offer recommendations based on our findings.  We found that some of the most effective models are in place in Washington, but resources are insufficient to address the large numbers of young adults in need of services. Our recommendations include support for these high performing programs as well as a list of seven critical elements that should be incorporated into any programs that serve older youth.
  • Removing Barriers to Service Integration – In 2007, the Workforce Board established the Washington Compact for Workforce Development.  A fundamental component of the Compact is the collective commitment to removing identified barriers to service integration.  You heard a great deal about the four areas identified for barrier removal: conflicting performance measurement priorities, difficulty co-enrolling customers across funding streams, inadequate co-location of WorkSource and CTC partners, and the lack of a sustainable infrastructure for staff cross-training and professional development.  You approved the Interagency Committee’s plan to work on these four areas and will be hearing progress updates throughout 2009.  You also recommended to the governor that $1.8 million of WIA 10 Percent Funds be used to improve service integration within the WorkSource center system, and endorsed a budget request to the governor from the state’s Employment Security Department for funds to improve the WorkSource data collection system, which will streamline co-enrollment across the system.

As though all this effort weren’t enough, the Workforce Board also stepped up its relationship with local workforce development leaders—Workforce Development Council chairs and directors—and agreed to work collaboratively on the development of proposals in two areas: persistent youth unemployment and adult worker training.  Two subcommittees will present draft proposals in early 2009 for the Workforce Board and the Workforce Development Councils to consider.

In July, you spent a full day together in retreat exploring the issues that affect the poor and working poor.  You concluded that there are two major areas of work that need to be undertaken to truly affect the prospect for prosperity for those living at or near the poverty line.  The message about the “American Dream” needs to be updated, with depictions of all the possible routes for achieving the dream.  The state must make all those routes accessible and available for each and every one of its citizens.  This leads to your second point, Washington needs something akin to the “GI Bill” for the state’s workers.  You were adamant in your determination that the “next” workforce development system would have a vehicle to support individuals fully while they completed the education and training needed to advance to true economic self-sufficiency.  You also were clear that the “next” system would be a jointly owned system, with co-investment by employers, workers, state, and federal government.  These revolutionary ideas will be explored by the Board with the Interagency Committee over the course of 2009.

With this joint ownership emphasis in mind, and in response to Senate Bill 6295, Workforce Board has begun exploring promising practices in workplace-based digital learning.  In November, with support from Corporation for a Skilled Workforce and Association of Washington Business, we hosted a full-day facilitated discussion with representatives from business, labor, and higher education to discuss the promise and barriers to bringing post-secondary education into the workplace in order to reach low-wage working adults.  The Workforce Board also commissioned WSU’s Social Research Policy Center to survey education providers from across the country about their success and/or lessons learned with workplace-based programs.

In keeping with tradition, this September, the Workforce Board partnered with Community Trade and Economic Development and the governor’s policy office to offer the Governor’s Economic and Workforce Development Conference in Lynnwood.  The turnout—almost 600 attendees—is the highest we’ve seen yet.  We received terrific reviews from participants from business, labor, education, workforce and economic development, as well as municipal governments and the legislature.

Finally, over the course of the year you tackled one the most significant of the Workforce Board’s functions, the development of High Skills, High Wages, the state’s strategic plan for the workforce development system.  Board members co-chaired the three workgroups: youth, adult, and industry, and supported staff throughout the process of developing the original draft, gathering input from hundreds of stakeholders across the state, and narrowing down the final compilation of strategic goals and objectives. You moved from a two-year plan to a plan with a 10-year horizon, to help system partners think more strategically about a realistic future vision.  The plan still has shorter term objectives, but they are designed to move the system towards the greater goals articulated. High Skills, High Wages, 2008 – 2018 will be presented to the legislature this session.  We are hopeful that a legislative resolution endorsing the plan will result.

Of course, all this work could not have been completed without the expertise, and assiduous attention of the staff of Workforce Board and its partner agencies. A more dedicated, caring, and engaged group of professionals will not be found in any other workforce development system across the country. 

I want to offer one further note of appreciation to our staff who were asked to take on the additional responsibilities of restructuring the agency towards a team environment, and developing an organizational strategic plan that coincides with the three thematic areas of High Skills, High Wages: youth, adult, and industry.  The creation of the new environment and the new plan was a tremendous undertaking in and of itself.  That it was completed without missing a beat in any other aspect of the Workforce Board’s work is a miracle.  The Board demonstrated their support of the staff when it approved the agency plan at the May 2008 meeting.

Personally, I can’t help but feel proud to be part of this incredible, remarkably worthwhile organization and extend my sincere gratitude to each of you for making it so.

My best wishes to you and your dear ones for a happy and healthy 2009, packed with loads of good fun.


Eleni Papadakis

We have archived our 2008 weekly newsletters.


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