Workforce Connections largely missing the mark

By: - March 28, 2022 5:00 am
here ya go

Jon Ponder of Hope for Prisoners addresses program graduates in 2018. (HFP Twitter photo)

Hope for Prisoners, the reentry program lauded by former Pres. Donald Trump, placed 29 people, about a quarter of the former prisoners it enrolled in training, into jobs between July of last year and January 2022 at a cost of $11,369 per person placed.  

The job recipients trained at Hope earned $15.69 an hour, the lowest average wage produced by the five agencies contracted by Workforce Connections (WC) to help prepare adults and dislocated workers for jobs.

All five providers that receive federal funds through Workforce Connections of Southern Nevada to train adults and dislocated workers fell short of their placement goals from July to January, according to a report from WC.  

WC is one of about 550 local workforce development boards across the country that sets priorities for money distributed by the U.S. Department of Labor through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WC selects Southern Nevada agencies to receive a cut of $20 million annually in job training funds –  $13,100,000 for adults (including prison reentry), $500,000 for dislocated workers and $6,400,000 for youth. 

But the money isn’t being spent. 

WC issued deficiency notices to four of the five agencies it contracted for adult training in the current programming year, which began in July 2021, according to an annual report presented to the WC board of directors last week, and all five contracted to spend disaster recovery funds. 

Each year, more than half a million people are released from prison in the U.S., according to the federal government. The Prison Policy Initiative says poverty is the greatest indicator of recidivism.

The unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people is upwards of 27% and a quarter lack a high school diploma, GED, or college degree. Newly released individuals are often required to secure employment as a condition of remaining on parole.

Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow (FIT) warranted “no concerns” for its prison reentry program from WC’s programming committee, which evaluates providers on an annual basis for their success. 

“I’m not trying to throw shade at the other organizations, but I always tell the staff it’s heart work, not hard work,” says Michael Hollis, program director for FIT. “So when you truly have a heart to serve the individuals that are coming to our organization at the lowest point in their lives, we’re able to get them back on the right track. That’s why we’re successful.”

Located in the Historic Westside, FIT placed 83 formerly incarcerated individuals between July 2021 and January 2022 in jobs with an average wage of $18.70 per hour. The per capita cost of the placements was $8,888, according to the report.

“We probably spend $8,000 to $10,000 per client, and that includes everything,” says Hollis. “When they get done with training, and they call us to say, ‘Hey, I need work boots and tools, and I need gas or monthly bus passes,’ we’re able to supply all that and still stay in that range.” 

Hollis says WC doesn’t establish a maximum threshold. He says FIT determines how many individuals it intends to train per grant and caps per capita spending accordingly.

Equus Workforce Solutions (EWS), a national for-profit corporation formerly known as ResCare, has three facilities in Southern Nevada. 

In 2019, over protests from the community and attempted intervention by Gov. Steve Sisolak, Workforce Connections gutted funding for Nevada Partners, Culinary Local 226’s job training agency, and awarded $10 million to EWS.

Today, EWS “is on high-risk status for continued deficiencies in monthly invoices,” for all three locations, according to the WC report.  WC also issued notices of deficiency for low enrollments to all EWS locations.

“Months ago, Workforce Connections wrote notices of deficiencies to service providers and has since implemented corrective action plans,” Kathy Topp, a public relations person contracted by WC, said via email. “Workforce Connections is closely monitoring the progress.” 

Youth providers deficient

WC providers offer job training to youth, including those in the juvenile justice system.
The World Bank reports “only 30% of youth employment programs are successful, with many of those offering only marginal benefit. And most programs have no positive effect at all.”

WC deemed all four providers of job training for youth deficient for failing to meet enrollment. 

The agency cited HELP of Southern Nevada for low enrollments and expenditures. HELP placed 53 youth in jobs with an average hourly wage of $12.88. The per capita cost per youth employed was $18,679.

EWS’ South location spent $13,351 per capita to place 37 youth in jobs with an average hourly  wage of $12.42. Its Central location spent $11,000 per capita placing 39 youth at an average hourly wage of $13.29.

Both EWS youth training providers are on “high risk status for continued deficiencies in monthly invoices” and low enrollment.

WC also issued a notice of deficiency to Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) for low enrollments and expenditures in December 2021. YAP placed 28 youth in jobs with an average wage of $11.70.  The per capita cost of the placements was $15,321. 

Nothing to see here

WC’s board members, representing business and government, raised no concerns about the failure of their providers to meet their goals. Without discussion, the board voted unanimously last week to extend contracts to current providers as part of its consent agenda. 

Board Chair Jerrie Merritt, community development manager of Bank of Nevada, did not respond to requests for comment on the vote. A consortium of elected officials meets Thursday for final approval.  

Job training service providers throughout the country are feeling the effects of the pandemic, according to Topp. 

The massive layoffs, the closure of training facilities, and social distancing mandates translated into expenditure shortages,” she says. “As conditions have changed, we have started to see forward progress and increased expenditures in Southern Nevada and across the nation.”

Workplace training is all the more necessary, experts say, as globalization, technology and the pandemic change the way we work.  

“In a dynamic economy workers are expected to adapt, to change not just jobs but sometimes careers, to pick up new skills when necessary. That requires successful training programs, which means we need to know which ones work,” says the Harvard Business Review.

The key to success after prison may depend on training opportunities while incarcerated, experts suggest. 

Hollis says he’s working to secure a grant that would allow FIT to collaborate with the Nevada Department of Corrections, the North Las Vegas jail and the Las Vegas jail. 

“We can actually go and teach life skills, educational courses, so when they're released, they actually have a training basis,” he says. 

Wraparound services in the form of child care assistance or food subsidies can make job training not only worthwhile but possible, especially for single parents. But few programs offer holistic help.

“We know that our specialty is vocational training and employment. So whenever we can’t help with child care, we will refer them to Urban League. There are about 200 churches in our area, there are food banks if they need food. We're going to connect them to everything,” Hollis said of FIT.  

“It's like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” he said of the psychological theory espoused by Abraham Maslow that people are motivated by the fulfillment of their needs. “We're not just going to focus on training and employment.  We put the pieces together.”

This story was updated March 30 with data provided by Workforce Connections.  

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.