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Feds Criticize State’s Efforts to Help RV Workers

April 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Laid-off Indiana RV workers were given a list of hot job prospects that included a surprising entry: the battered recreational vehicle industry that had just put them out of work, a federal review of the state’s unemployment agency has found.

The Associated Press reported that job market specialists for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development also failed to show up at “rapid response” events to serve large numbers of RV workers who had been laid off, and case managers enrolled the displaced workers in a $6,000 computer training course without knowing whether it would bring them new jobs, the U.S. Department of Labor said.

The criticisms were among 31 “areas of concern” and 41 findings of non-compliance with federal regulations contained in a March 9 report by a team of reviewers from the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration.

The report, obtained this week by the Associated Press, also said the state miscalculated jobless benefits at a rate five times the national average in 2007 and broke federal rules in writing and awarding contracts.

A Department of Workforce Development spokesman said Thursday (April 2) that the vendor providing unemployment services in the Elkhart area was told Thursday its contract would not be renewed.

“The Department of Workforce Development has had concerns about that, about the operations in Region 2,” said Workforce Development spokesman Marc Lotter.

The Labor Department report comes at a pivotal time for Indiana. Workforce Development distributes jobless benefits and coordinates retraining for unemployed Hoosiers, who numbered 324,000 in February, giving the state a 9.4% unemployment rate – the highest in 25 years. The state’s unemployment insurance fund is bankrupt, and lawmakers are struggling to find a way to fix it as claims continue to rise.

A 14-member Labor Department team conducted the review last fall and visited unemployment offices in six of Workforce Development’s 12 regions, including the South Bend-Elkhart-Warsaw region, home to the RV industry that has seen plant closings fuel an 18% jobless rate in Elkhart County alone.

A “Northern Indiana Occupations in Demand” list used by WorkOne offices in Elkhart and South Bend included “RV and manufactured housing construction,” the reviewers found.

“It is outdated and no longer accurate information,” reviewers noted.

Case managers also “appeared to encourage clients to do their own research on the job market,” the report said. “Many of the dislocated RV workers were choosing to enroll in an ‘I.T. boot camp’ training program …. The case managers expressed uncertainty over whether or not this training program would result in actual employment upon completion.”

Lotter did not name the contractor providing the services. The website for WorkOne Northern Indiana contains a strategic plan identifying the regional operator as South Bend-based Workforce Development Group Inc. The AP left a message with the company Thursday seeking comment.

The Northern Indiana Workforce Board had a public meeting scheduled for today in South Bend and was expected to vote on the regional operator’s contract.

The development came a day after Workforce Development said it had canceled a $7 million job training contract with Ivy Tech Community College that the report criticized for a lack of accountability.

Lotter has said the state and the Labor Department disagree on how rules for awarding the contract should be interpreted.

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