Texas Stamps a New Brand on Job Training Programs

Article excerpt

THE Texas work force training program is so bad, said the state's comptroller John Sharp recently, that it should be "blown up." While Mr. Sharp hasn't tossed any grenades yet, Texas is one of several states leading the way in overhauling a cumbersome bureaucracy that often fails to help retrain workers for an increasingly high-tech and service-oriented marketplace. Congress too is moving to revamp federally funded job training programs. This week, debate is scheduled to begin on two bills that will require states to shoulder more of the burden of teaching new skills to the unemployed and underemployed. But Texas, Indiana, and several other states aren't waiting for Congress. They see reforms as crucial to keeping and attracting industry. "The only way to create a dynasty like the one we had in oil and gas is to invest in people and the work force," Sharp says. Demand for skilled workers in the computer industry, for example, is high in Texas. If the state manages job training well, Sharp predicts the Texas economy of the future will "make oil and gas look like a barn dance." But Sharp isn't doing the two-step just yet. Over the next few months, he will coordinate the consolidation of 30 job training programs into one agency, the Texas Workforce Commission. Last year, Texas spent $1.6 billion on work force training, half of which came from state coffers. But according to Sharp, only 5 to 10 percent of workers know how to access available training programs. In one case, he says, the Texas Department of Human Services had 1,000 employees assigned to help welfare recipients find job training. Yet only 31 of those recipients actually got training. Similar problems exist at the federal level. Last year, the General Accounting Office found that the federal government spends more than $25 billion per year on 154 work force assistance or development programs administered by 14 agencies. …