(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Coalition) – Flexibility was the word of the day at a meeting of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held at the Opportunity Village offices in southwest Las Vegas.
Committee members Congressmen Joe Heck (R-NV), John Kline (R-MN) and Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) attended the event, which hosted two panels to gather local input on federal jobs programs and the challenges of the local job market.
Nevada has been harder hit by the current economic downturn than nearly every state in the union. Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analytics rattled off the statistics that may be all-too familiar to residents of the state of Nevada – the loss of 157,000 or 15% of the workforce, unemployment in double digits for 31 consecutive months, Nevada’s economy continuing to shrink (by 0.3%) during 2010, three years after the official beginning of the recession.
John Ball, executive director of Nevada Workforce Connections, identified local flexibility as a key component of successful solutions. He lauded the “innovation and creativity” available at the local level when such programs are not subject to the “one-size-fits-all” model often dictated by Washington.
Rebecca Metty-Burns, executive director of the Division of Workforce and Economic Development at the College of Southern Nevada, stated that her office often opted out of applying for programs they may be qualified for because of overly restrictive regulations. In some cases, the requirements render the programs infeasible for her office and sometimes they impose additional costs and burdens that outweigh the benefits provided.
Ball’s program has exceeded expectations and the goals set for it. Nearly 3/4 of the participants in one program were successfully placed in jobs with more than 80% of them being retained. But he also presented an example in which restrictions prevented his group from working with Burns’s to show the need for flexibility.
Darren Enns, secretary-treasurer of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council, discussed the challenges of getting members of his organization back to work. His group represents more than 20,000 construction workers, more than half of whom are currently unemployed.
Aguero mentioned that 2/3 of construction jobs in the valley had been lost. In response to a question from Congressman Heck, he declared that it was not possible to place those workers back in the construction industry.
Enns added that Nevada businesses can’t just write these people off and should try to pursue opportunities in alternative energy, especially solar, to provide jobs.
In a briefing with media after the event, Congressman Heck agreed with Aguero that many of the construction jobs were not coming back . He added that it is important for jobless construction workers to obtain retraining in areas such as healthcare to be prepared for the jobs that are available.
The healthcare sector is one of the few that is expanding in Southern Nevada. LeRoy Walker, vice president of Human Resources at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals, says the scarcity of workers in areas such as nursing is only going to get worse as the economy improves. They also have to deal with educational facilities not properly preparing workers. Walkers stated that most nurses fresh out of higher education institutions must undergo an additional 18 weeks of additional training at company expense before they are fully prepared.
Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen related the targeted efforts his city has engaged in to attempt to attract employers. Focusing on higher education and health care, Henderson has brought in 13 out-of-state colleges, both public and private, and expanded the number of hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Hafen credited the meetings between city council members and employers to gauge the direction of the economy and their future workforce needs as an important element in Henderson’s economic development strategy. He also includes the area’s education facilities, saying, “We need to make sure educators are teaching what our workers need to know.”
The first part of the program was interrupted on several occasions as protesters shouted out from the audience before being asked to leave by security. As the last outburst ended, an additional group of people, including some wearing union T-shirts, left the meeting. These people reconvened outside holding anti-Heck picket signs.
At the reporters’ briefing, Heck said they were “the same group of people that show up all of my events.” He claimed this group also shows up unannounced at his office demanding to see him when he is not there and goes to private events at which the Congressman appears and blames Heck when the organizers refuse to let them in. If they were to call to make an appointment at his office, “I’m more than happy to meet with them,” Heck said.
Kline indicated that he and others also have the same things occur in their districts. “Every Tuesday, I know the same eight people who show up,” he said, at one of his offices.