WASHINGTON — State governments and local agencies will have much more control over job-training funds under a major revision of federal worker training programs passed by Congress.
The Workforce Investment Act, the biggest change in federal training programs since 1982, will incorporate more than 60 federal programs into a single system. The new program also will give workers vouchers they can use at designated training programs.
President Clinton signed the legislation into law Aug. 11.
Plastics industry officials were not sure how the rewrite will affect their training efforts, but Drew Fleming, director of industry work force development at the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington, welcomed the consolidation and expanded local control.
Implementing the legislation is up to states, so the specific shape new programs will take is difficult to predict.
Worker training is a top priority for local plastics organizations. For example, it is the primary goal of a new Pennsylvania organization, Plastics Pennsylvania, that kicked off in July.
Plant managers and industry officials should try to get on local training boards that will be appointed by state governors because those boards will oversee program development and disburse money, said Sandy Boyd, director of employment policy with the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington.
Some states, such as Michigan, Ohio and Vermont, already have similar boards, but the legislation will be a ``significant step forward'' because it will expand those efforts to other states and give all states more flexibility, she said.
For example, all governors now can grant local authorities waivers to pursue new programs outside of statutory requirements, rather than just the six states that now have that authority, according to a fact sheet from Sen. Mike Dewine, R-Ohio, one of the sponsors of the legislation.
``The system has always been a maze to work around,'' Boyd said. ``For a potential employee, it's a much better system. ... An individual trainee will have a voucher that will let them pick the training program.''
The legislation also aims to create centers with information about multiple training and employment programs in one place, and ties funding to things such as job placement and retention rates.
Funding for the programs will remain at about $8 billion over five years — what it had been before the rewrite — and there will be a transition period to the new system, said DeWine spokesman Charles Boesel.
Individual states will make many of the decisions on consolidating programs, and those efforts could start in the new federal fiscal year in October, if appropriations committees complete work on funding, Boesel said.
``The states certainly have much more control ... in that this is much more of a traditional block grant program,'' said John Bierbusse, director of the Macomb/St. Clair Workforce Development Board in Clinton, Mich.
The best way for industry officials to get involved in the program is to get seats on local boards, he said.
The new program contains some good reforms, but also simply recognizes the reality that federal funding for worker training is ``getting to be very limited,'' he said. That requires cooperation and consolidation, he said.
The program also is narrower than envisioned when Congress began serious work four or five years ago and there was talk of trying to consolidate all adult education and vocational education programs, he said.
A system of local boards that oversees spending works well in Michigan, said Cynthia Eschenburg, assistant director of human resources for Blue Water Plastics Inc. in Maryville. Eschenburg heads the Academy for Plastics Manufacturing Technology, a training program for local high schools, and sits on a board overseeing career preparation programs in Macomb and St. Clair counties in Michigan.
``Anything that sends money locally and has local decision-making is better,'' she said.