California’s Powerful, But Obscure, Answer to the Covid Jobs Crisis – Workforce Development Boards

Zocalo Public Square, by MICHAEL BERNICK | JULY 10, 2020

You May Never Have Heard of Your Local Workforce Development Boards, but They Know How to Move the State Forward

A “Now Hiring” sign at a CVS Pharmacy during the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco. California’s unemployment rate nearly tripled in April because of the economic fallout from coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy of Jeff Chiu/Associated Press.

We can bring jobs back to California, and we can do it right now. The latest employment numbers should provide the sense of urgency. An additional 287,354 new unemployment insurance claims were filed just for the week ending June 20, bringing the total to more than 6.7 million claims filed in California since mid-March, and $33.5 billion in unemployment benefits paid. Our California economy is now surviving in good part on unemployment insurance payments.

To understand how to respond to the current predicament, Californians should turn to the front lines of employment: California’s network of 45 local workforce development boards. Though these boards are not well known, they represent the heart of the public workforce system in California. Overseen by locally appointed business and labor representatives, workforce development boards administer the bulk of the federal and state job training and placement funds in the state, totaling more than $1 billion. They interact daily with job seekers and local businesses. 

Fresno’s board is one of the larger bodies, with a budget of nearly $19 million, 31 direct staff, and more than 200 contractors involved in job training and placement. It serves an area population of just under 1 million, with unemployment and poverty rates that have been well above the state average for decades. Blake Konczal, the board’s executive director since 2002, started his career during the economic downturn in 1992, providing placement services to laid-off Southern California aerospace workers. He has experience with several other downturns since then and is active in current Central Valley recovery efforts.

In my recent conversations with Konczal and other board directors, they emphasize that there is no silver bullet for recovery. Rather, their experiences with the current and previous downturns point to a series of five strategies to bring back California jobs. click here for full story at Zocalo Public Square