Legislature(2001 - 2002)
02/14/2002 01:37 PM L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 252-EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING PROGRAM/BOARD CHAIRMAN BEN STEVENS called the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee meeting to order at 1:37 p.m. and announced SB 252 to be up for consideration. MS. REBECCA GAMEZ, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said she would give an overview of STEP and changes to the Alaska Human Resource Investment Council (AHIRC) that are in SB 252 after Mr. Sanders' testimony. MR. JIM SANDERS, Executive Director, Alaska Human Resources Investment Council, said there are five issues in this bill and the first one is the name change. Currently, it is called the Alaska Human Resource Investment Council and this legislation proposes to change it to the State Workforce Investment Board (WIB). This would bring them in line with the Workforce Investment Act and more clearly aligns them with the two Alaska Workforce Investment Boards - the Alaska Mat-Su and the Balance of State WIB. Secondly, the AHRIC doesn't clearly convey the purpose of the Council. Their mission says that they are a private public leadership board that sets policy framework for the development of Alaska's workforce. The proposed title is shorter and more succinctly identifies the organization's purpose. There are a number of housekeeping issues. Throughout the text of the bill they would change the reference of "Council" to "Board" and change references to the "Private Industry Council" to "Local Workforce Investment Board". The third issue is adding the Commissioner of Administration as a non-voting member of the Board. He said that Juneau is one of Alaska's major employers and the Commissioner of Administration has a comprehensive knowledge of current and future employment needs for the state employment system. He would be a valuable asset to the Board in its deliberation and discussion of policy issues. In addition, the Commissioner would benefit from a greater exposure to the full spectrum of employment and training issues that confront the state and are frequently discussed by AHRIC. The fourth issue is one of flexibility. Currently, AHRIC is restricted to meeting three times a year and this would allow them one more meeting per year [but not make it mandatory] giving them the flexibility to address unexpected issues. The fifth issue is in Section 9. The AHRIC advises the governor, state and local agencies and the University of Alaska on workforce issues and they propose adding "other training entities". This reflects what they currently do with the Alaska Vocational Technical Training Center, Charter College or the Southwest Vocational Training Center. The other change in section 9 is that the Board shall develop standards that encourage agencies to contract for programs and says, "meets local demands and maximizes the use of resources." This is something that they already do. They want training and employment to reflect regional needs and funds that are used are used most effectively. MS. GAMEZ said since 1989, STEP has trained thousands of Alaskans. This is good because when people are working, they are not drawing unemployment insurance benefits and it keeps wages in the state. The collaboration with employers, unions and industries adds value to the economic development, training and apprentice programs throughout the state. She used the Hyder Waterworks Project as an example of how STEP works in Alaskan communities and it has an adult working-age population of 82. Adult as defined by the U.S. census is 16 and above. So the Hyder Waterworks Project employs about half of its population. The U.S. Department of Commerce, through an Economic Development and Administration Grant (EDA), paid 60 percent of the cost of the facility; forty percent was raised locally. They applied for a STEP grant for training and were award a $32,000 grant. The University of Alaska Ketchikan provided onsite training for the workers. She said that the federal funding programs are not as flexible as this program is. Currently, the Hyder project is capable of producing 140,000 bottles daily, although they produce only 40,000 bottles. They are negotiating a contract with Sam's Club right now. If that happens, they will want to train another shift of workers. MS. GAMEZ said the STEP delivery strategy is two-fold delivering service through competitive grants into business needs and through individual services largely delivered through the 22 Alaska job centers. A good example of the individual training model is Kathleen Basinger of Fairbanks. She has supported two kids by herself on a low paying job. She knew she needed to improve her skill level. After she graduated, she took her kids to Disneyland showing them that hard work pays off and that self- sufficiency and success is a good thing. Another example is Mr. Glen Shortsmith from Sterling. He had been on and off unemployment insurance. He needed and wanted full-time work. Through the Kenai Peninsula job center, he was able to get an individual grant for $550, which allowed him to get his commercial driver's license. He is now a full-time driver and he feels secure with the job that he has. The competitive grant process is delivered through non-profit businesses, for-profit businesses, apprenticeship programs and education institutions, wherever the need is identified. Right now 300 Alaskans out of the 1,100 in training are training for high paying union jobs thanks to the STEP program. They also deliver services through competitive grants to large and small businesses for local workforces at communities around the state. Bulk fuel tanks are now being replaced in Alaska. These tanks used to be imported from outside businesses and now they are being manufactured in Nome. These are a couple of examples of success stories of STEP in Alaska. She showed them a map of the communities that are impacted by STEP training. She said that STEP has been a pilot program since its inception in 1989 and this temporary nature has been an on-going challenge. It needs to be predictable and stable for future generations. SENATOR AUSTERMAN asked if there was a report that lists the total number of people who are served through the program. MS. GAMEZ said they had the data compiled and pending the audit they were planning on getting this information out to the committee members. She offered to get that information to them sooner. CHAIRMAN STEVENS asked her to provide them the information. She said absolutely. SENATOR TORGERSON asked if she eliminated the sunset entirely. She replied that there was no automatic review of the program, but it would be done through the annual audits the department goes through or any special audits that may be raised. SENATOR AUSTERMAN asked if the Local Workforce Investment Board was separate from the main board. MS. GAMEZ replied that the way the Workforce Investment Act is set up there is a state board, the Alaska Human Resource Investment Council; there are two local board, the Anchorage Mat- Su area and the other is the Balance of State area. In addition to those boards, there are local advisory councils in many of the communities throughout the states for the job centers. She said the language replacing the Private Industry Council with the Local Workforce Investment Board mirrors the Workforce Investment Act. Private industry councils don't technically exist any more. SB 252 was held for further work.