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Audit: City jobs programs disorganized

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 by Jo Clifton

The city’s workforce development programs are neither well-planned nor well-coordinated, and the city does not have reliable data to evaluate the success of the programs, according to an audit released last week by the Office of the City Auditor.

The audit, which was presented to the City Council Audit and Finance Committee by Assistant City Auditor Katie Houston, also notes that the city lacks goals related to market needs, and found that “while it appears that workforce development programs benefited some participants at the individual level, it does not appear that the City prioritized contracted services to meet its own target industries or the needs of Austin area employers.”

Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who chairs the committee, was so alarmed by the findings of the audit that she proposed that Council not approve any more funding for any job program contract until Council has reviewed and approved a new workforce plan. That plan, which was done by the nonprofit Workforce Solutions Capital Area, was completed in June, but has yet to come before the Council for its consideration.

Troxclair’s committee colleagues Council Member Leslie Pool and Mayor Steve Adler voted for her motion. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo had left for another meeting. Adler said he thought it was critical that the city, as well as other funding entities such as the county, “stop for a minute,” to figure out the best solutions for measuring performance and for helping people get jobs.

Houston told the Council members there are at least eight departments involved in workforce development, but no one department has been in charge of making sure that contracts align with city goals. That will be changing soon, according to the director of the city’s Economic Development Department, Kevin Johns, who said his department would be in charge of that management.

In addition, the audit found that only 19 percent of participants trained through the city’s workforce development programs were trained in target markets, making it less likely that they will be able to find jobs than if they had trained in the target industries.

The audit also noted that although the city has identified these specific target markets, none of the graduates of the training programs were trained in two of those particular industries: fashion and zero waste.

The audit was also specifically critical of a program focused on helping individuals become licensed vocational nurses or registered nurses “due to limited clinical observation opportunities. Attaining these certifications requires a certain number of supervised clinical observation hours at an area health care facility, and there may not always be facilities and faculty available to provide the required observation time,” the audit says.

Capital IDEA Executive Director Steven Jackobs pointed out an apparent misstatement in the audit report about the federal Medicaid funding program for nursing students at Austin Community College.

According to the audit, the program “was likely not cost effective, as approximately $657,000 was awarded to the contractor, but it appears that only 16 individuals graduated through this program. This equates to a cost of about $41,000 per person for this specific program, while a nursing associate’s degree at Austin Community College (where these graduates were trained) only costs about $9,408. Note participants funded through this contract were not required to be Travis County residents or low-income, though some participants were. The federal funding for this program has since been discontinued.”

However, Jackobs told the committee that the actual cost of preparing a nurse at ACC is around $72,000. (Ed. note: The Monitor has since been informed that Jackobs was mistaken. The actual cost of preparing a nurse at ACC is $46,000.) “It’s an expensive program, a very high-value program. Nurses make a lot of money once they finish, and people’s lives depend on them getting the right kind of training. So ACC may have a tuition cost of $9,000, which is one-size-fits-all but underneath that, they’re putting what we estimate to be $60,000 of property tax revenue and state aid in some situations.” He said he had just provided the information to the auditors and that the auditors would come back to Council “with their judgment of the actual cost.”

Tamara Atkinson, CEO of Workforce Solutions, said her organization has developed a report that addresses many of the problems brought up by the audit, puts Austin’s business needs first and “seeks to reach those that are most vulnerable in our community.”

Adler asked City Auditor Corrie Stokes to take a look at the report and see how many of the issues raised by the audit have been addressed, and Stokes replied that she would.

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This article has been updated since publication. 

Photo by Matt Cornock made available through a Creative Commons license.

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