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Audit finds city slow to move on workforce development recommendations

Friday, February 25, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

An updated audit has found the city has yet to implement most of the recommendations made five years ago related to improving workforce development programs within the Economic Development Department and Austin Public Health.

The 2022 audit, which was discussed at Wednesday’s meeting of City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee, found that only two of the six recommendations that were supposed to be implemented by mid-2018 are in place.

The initial recommendations were to have the city manager name a lead department to oversee workforce development programs; have that department establish citywide goals and expectations; make sure renegotiated workforce development contracts are aligned with the needs of area employers; build performance measures into those contracts, with payment dependent on performance; have the public health director enhance the review of contractors so all data is accurate; and have the EDD director conduct the same enhanced review.

The audit found the city manager had named EDD as the lead department for workforce development issues, and that APH had taken steps to improve the review of its contractors.

The other four recommendations are underway and the audit notes EDD made progress on some of them, with a road map for completion presented to the Audit and Finance Committee in January 2020, two months before the department had to switch gears to create a number of new programs related to Covid-19 relief.

Last May that department renewed efforts around the workforce development issues, drafting a three-year strategy that includes extending current workforce development contracts for one year to prevent gaps in service, determining which occupations are in high demand locally, surveying service providers about to measure performance, and working with the Office of Performance Management to align performance metrics.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, the recently named head of EDD, said the department will have a finalized plan for workforce development by the fourth quarter of this year.

Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter said the city may need to take a fresh look at its overall workforce development strategy since the local job market has likely changed dramatically with five years of growth and the impacts of the pandemic, with nursing and other health care jobs being a particular need.

“The pandemic really highlighted how important a thriving and supported workforce is to the overall health of our community and our economy, and some of the workforce areas and skills that we have targeted, we would have been well served if we had more people who were able to carry out those professions,” she said. “I believe the city can and should take an active role in developing our workforce, and I am glad to see staff moving in the right direction.”

After Holt-Rabb said some of the delays in implementation were caused by turnover within department leadership as well as the Covid relief workload, Council Member Vanessa Fuentes asked how the city can build a plan that won’t be greatly impacted by more staff turnover in the future.

“How will we build a plan that factors in that there might be, and will likely be, transitions happening every few years with staff moving to new jobs that may offer a more competitive pay, knowing that we are in an affordability crisis where it may be challenging to have our staff living and working in Austin?” she said. “What redundancies do we have so that we can ensure that not only are these recommendations carried out, but that our strategy is cohesive regardless of who is in or out on our team?”

Holt-Rabb said the department is working to have as many vacancies as possible filled by this August, and that extensive cross-training will be implemented to prevent work from slowing when staffers move on to other jobs outside of city government.

Photo by M.Fitzsimmons, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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