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State plans revamp of workforce development structure

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The Eastern Area Workforce Development Board, one of four now in the state, would be dissolved under a proposed state plan, with the state served by a metro board and a rural board instead. The regional board has seven offices, including one on West Country Club Road in Roswell, as well as numerous “one-stop” centers to serve job seekers. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Initial recommendations to change the state’s workforce development structure that determines how $25 million in job funds are used could present challenges for the eastern region of the state, according to a manager with the Eastern Area Workforce Development Board.

The current recommendations include dissolving the four regional boards that exist now and replacing them with two governing bodies, a metro board and a rural board.

Another proposed change is to amend the New Mexico Administrative Code so that chief elected officials are county commissioners. Currently chief elected officials, or CEOs, are elected officials of counties or municipalities appointed to represent their entity.

For the Eastern Area Workforce Development Board, there are CEOS for all 12 counties and 44 municipalities it serves, with one of the group named lead CEO. The CEO group then approves the members of the regional board of directors made up of representatives from industry, labor, government and higher education.

Tiffany Roth, operations manager with the EAWDB, discussed the proposed changes during an April 8 meeting of the board of directors of the Southeast New Mexico Economic Development District and Council of Governments.

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Workforce development boards are authorized by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. State law and administrative code establishes the state organizational and governing structure.

The federal WOIA program provides the state with about $25 million a year in grants for programs with the aim of providing employment for youth, adults and dislocated workers. The regional boards use the money to contract with agencies that run “one-stop” offices to provide job search and job readiness services and to provide funding for residents to obtain education and training.

But a fiscal year 2019 report by the Labor Department found that New Mexico ranked in the bottom one-third of U.S. states and territories for employment and earnings outcomes for laid-off workers, according to a report by the State Workforce Board. It also ranked 45th out of 55 states and territories for the number of adults obtaining credentials and 46th for youth.

The State Workforce Board began evaluating the state structure in 2018 and created a Transformation Subcommittee to recommend future changes. On April 1, the state announced the proposal to implement the change to two boards. It also made a preliminary plan to split funding so that 55.5% would go to the metro board, with the remaining 44.5% allocated for the rural board.

“The Transformation Committee has been very clear that they want new boards, new administrative entities and new service providers beginning July 1, 2022,” Roth said. “So they plan on completely redoing the entire scope of the system, and this is the first step in that and now we will see how they want to do it.”

She said she can foresee some challenges with having a metro board that would govern operations in Bernalillo, Dona Ana, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties, and a rural board that would make decisions for the other 29 counties in the state.

“We have some concerns about that, mainly the sheer volume of the rural boards. Twenty-nine counties is a lot to administer. The Eastern board currently administers 12 counties, and we find it very difficult with our limited staff to really make inroads just in those 12 counties,” she said. “We think the state will have to do a lot of work to make sure there is opportunities for rural communities.”

According to the State Workforce Board report, the Eastern board received 16% of the federal money that was provided to the state in program year 2020, or about $3.88 million of the $24.73 million. Roth said her office provides about $7 million overall in job training and placement funds.

Roth also said the state could decide to fund training and education in only certain industry sectors such as health care, education and tourism.

“We are concerned that does not affect small communities because small communities don’t have large numbers of one type of worker,” she said.

She added that the oil and gas industry of southeastern New Mexico and its workers might not fare well with a system that might choose to emphasize renewable energy or other industries.

She also worried that the change to have chief elected officers be only county commissioners could sideline some of the more involved and helpful elected officials working with the system now.

The State Workforce Board report said the two-board system is expected to save on administrative costs and free up more money for job placement and training. It is also expected to help make regional plans.

A New Mexico Workforce Solutions spokesperson added that the current plans already emphasize industry and business input and that regional and community planning would remain a part of the process.

“Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), regional planning is required to inform investments at the local levels. The state plan calls for coordination across all sectors with a strategy that is inclusive of the needs of job seekers and businesses in a local area,” said Acting Public Information Officer Stacy Johnston.

She said that the change in the state’s administrative code regarding chief elected officers is to ensure that county commissioners accept fiscal responsibility for the federal funding.

“The funds awarded to local areas flows through at a county level and the purpose of the proposed change is to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the county commissioners as primarily points of contact for governance and fiscal oversight of federal funds from U.S. Department of Labor,” Johnston said.

She said that county commissioners could give their voting rights to others, if that was approved by other CEOs, but that they would still have legal and fiscal responsibility. She also said local organizations would continue to be involved in planning and discussions.

The recommendations are under review by the Governor’s Office now.

“Once approved, the State Workforce Board will establish a process and timeline for consultation and input with local chief elected officials, local workforce development boards and the public,” Johnston said.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.