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Unemployment Skyrockets: What Public Workforce Systems Can Do

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

Amid wrenching changes in the Austin and Texas labor market, we have discussed here what you and employers can do right now to find jobs and to upskill. We have discussed here that several current factors in the Austin region may make our economic impact slightly less painful. In this blog, I will propose actions our local and state governments can take to immediately impact the economic resilience of our people.

Thanks to leadership from Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Workforce Chair Bryan Daniel, our state government is shifting resources rapidly to try to attempt to address immediate needs. Timing to receive unemployment benefits has improved. TWC shifted $40M additional dollars and doubled the minimum income eligibility (to $110k for family of four) to support child care for ‘essential’ workers. Resources within the Texas workforce system are being redeployed to answer calls from those seeking help on unemployment insurance, potentially increasing people to help Texans file claims from 1,000 to close to 3,000.

But the rate of change is unprecedented (TWC received up to 1 million claims for unemployment in the last four weeks, a massive increase over a year ago and erasing net job gains -- at least temporarily -- for the last four years). Government can and will need to move at the speed of relevance.

My assumption is Texas has not yet hit peak unemployment. These actions should be considered:

  • Refine and update the target occupation list. Workforce Boards maintain a target occupation list which is supposed to direct their training dollars. As the economy reopens in phases, local Workforce Board should update each month.

  • Focus on on-line training assets. Shelter-in-place has accelerated the move to on-line training. Workforce Boards should rapidly revisit policies and seek out vendors fully in this environment, as the Capital Area Workforce Solutions has done.

  • Repurpose state employees – Continue state efforts to rapidly (and remotely) train existing state employees and prepare them with network and telecommuting technology – especially in relatively unaffected areas – to assist with TWC response time on unemployment assistance.

  • Seasonal hiring or call center contracts - Quickly determine need for seasonal hiring across state government to meet emergency demand. New York has been hiring rapidly in its employment division to handle the current and expected need to help the newly unemployed.

  • Expand bandwidth. The website is currently experiencing so much traffic it needs additional capacity.

  • Improve user interface and web application improvements to allow for many more people to be helped by technology when they need it, human beings when they don’t.

  • Map strategies to deploy wifi and broadband to Texas, urban, suburban and rural. Governments should collaborate with the private sector to bring the internet to 1.5 million rural Texans and underserved families in neighbors throughout the state. See more here.

  • What else is missing? Email

Governor Abbott has convened a top-notch medical supply strike force to ensure that they can contract with and secure ICU beds, medical talent and supplies much more quickly and ensure they arrive at specific locations in need ahead of when they are needed.

We need a similar strike force to help support the efforts to identify, assist, retrain and re-employ what may quickly become millions at least temporarily unemployed. Here are some thoughts:

  • Rapid creation, proto-typing and scaling of a WPA-style training program which can help train people in our most vulnerable and most hard-hit zip codes (locally funding organizations like American Youthworks or Skillpoint Alliance).

  • Rapid virtual convening of HR leadership by sector by region to identify what questions they have, what information they need, what confidential information they can provide, what projected job additions and losses they expect under different scenarios, and what needs they have for web tools, on-line training, bandwidth, assessment, credentials.

  • Rapid, real-time evaluation of the under-employed and unemployed. Partner with Indeed, LinkedIn, Talroo, WorkinTexas and other job search and exchange platforms to perform a rapid evaluation of who is currently unemployed, who is furloughed (and until what date), who is participating in job sharing, what their current proficiencies are and some modeling on scenarios for when they might be re-employed in their current position. Create estimates for need for on-line devices, bandwidth, language need and how to assess talent.

  • Identify and Group Targeted Skill Sets - Work with area training and higher education providers to create a quick analysis of those individuals who share the same approximate skill set, who are interested in jobs which require training and who can be virtually recruited and rapidly retrained, especially if they are coming from a job in a sector we anticipate will take slower to recover.

  • Improve Functionality of Tools for the Unemployed – Technology allows the TWC or local workforce boards to pro-actively reach out to the unemployed or under-employed to encourage them and prompt them along the process to re-skilling. The process should include mapping on-line training providers, their enrollment process, academic prerequisites, cost, hours to complete, certificate, hours offered. TWC or local workforce boards should then move to digitally message Austin-ites to see if they would like help in enrolling in this training.

  • Re-evaluate current occupational licenses - Work with state licensing boards to rapidly evaluate the need for creation of temporary certification to allow people to enter high need fields. Work to determine whether expiration dates on expired certifications can be revisited, at least temporarily. Explore whether state licensing boards can connect with those who recently left an occupation to make them aware of immediate job opportunities – especially in essential and growing occupations. Connect in Sunset Commission for 87th Texas Legislature recommendations.

  • Create Initial Industry Sector Level Plans by May 1 - In the Austin region, sector level plans should be ready by May 1 to redeploy talent into our highest areas. Federal funds in the next round of stimulus should be directed to accomplishing this plan. Training should be focused on full-day, 8 hour per day, rapid on-line training with in-person training when social distancing is lifted in a given community. Funds should run through local workforce boards who curate the training options to align with high-need sectors.

  • What else is missing? Email

For years, with rising housing costs and a full-employment market, Austin-ites have not had enough time to upskill to prepare for the rapidly digitizing economy. Now, with non-essential employees having more time-in-place, society (either through the next federal stimulus) should strongly consider spending money not just to maintain income – but also to increase the economic resiliency of our people and accelerate our local company’s ability to grow and hire their own.

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