We’ve all heard the phrase, “I can’t find any skilled employees!” Now is the time to do something about it.
Business managers from high-tech firms, to small-business owners, to franchise restaurateurs all are bemoaning the shortage of qualified workers to meet their growing business needs. Today we have the opportunity to solve two growing problems. We can assist welfare recipients in making the transition to work by providing them with training, assessment, counseling and on-the-job coaching, while at the same time helping employers meet their staffing needs.
The welfare rolls have reached their lowest levels in 30 years, while the United States is experiencing the tightest labor market in three decades. All of the people who could move off welfare with relative ease have left.
A California unemployment rate of 5.5 percent indicates that people are available to work. Yet many require training to meet market demands. A California Department of Social Services survey showed that English is not the primary language for more than half of the two-parent families on welfare.
Now is the time for us to implement real solutions, not quick fixes. Partnerships among business, government and social service agencies need to be expanded in order to provide industry-specific training to selected candidates.
Employers in the quickly growing health care, retail, customer service, construction and technical fields require employees with specific skills. Welfare-to-work candidates need to first have their aptitudes assessed and then receive training in a field in which testing demonstrates they are most likely to experience success.
After their training, when they are placed with an employer who receives a tax credit for hiring welfare recipients, candidates need on-the-job coaching from a trained counselor. To be successful in their transition, individuals need guidance on issues ranging from child care and transportation to the use of the phone at work and cleanliness.
Such programs may require more time and effort in the beginning, but they hold the promise of a long-term solution. Currently, California Senate Bill 368 would require a study of the effectiveness of providing assessment services at the commencement of welfare-to-work activities in order to examine how such services affect the recipient’s ability to acquire and maintain competitive skills and to define and reach career goals.
The passage of SB 368 is only the first step. We need to work together to provide trained employees that meet the market’s needs. And we need to get Angelenos working again.
Vivian Seigel is executive director of Jewish Vocational Service, which has 67 years of experience helping people build, enhance or change careers.