Employment and Training:

Labor's Green Jobs Efforts Highlight Challenges of Targeted Training Programs for Emerging Industries

GAO-13-555: Published: Jun 19, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2013.

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What GAO Found

Of the $595 million identified by Labor as having been appropriated or allocated specifically for green jobs activities since 2009, approximately $501 million went toward efforts with training and support services as their primary objective, with much of that funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). Because the Recovery Act directed federal agencies to spend funds quickly and prudently, Labor implemented a number of high-investment green jobs efforts simultaneously. As a result, in some cases, Recovery Act training programs were initiated prior to a full assessment of the demand for green jobs, which presented challenges for grantees. While Labor's internal agencies initially communicated with each other and with other federal agencies after the Recovery Act was passed, most Recovery Act grants have ended or are winding down.

Labor created its green jobs definitional framework to provide local flexibility, and grantees we interviewed broadly interpreted Labor's framework to include any job that could be linked, directly or indirectly, to a beneficial environmental outcome. Labor's training data show most participants were trained in construction or manufacturing. While the findings of our site visits are not generalizable, all grantees we interviewed said they had worked closely with local employers to align their training program with the green skills needs of local employers. Most grantees we interviewed also told us they had incorporated green elements into existing training programs aimed at traditional skills, such as teaching weatherization as part of a carpentry training program.

The outcomes of Labor's green jobs training programs remain uncertain, in part because data on final outcomes were not yet available for about 40 percent of grantees, as of the end of 2012. Analysis of grantees with final outcome data shows they collectively reported training slightly more individuals than they had projected, but job placements were at 55 percent of the target. Training-related job placement rates remain unknown because Labor's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found these data unreliable. Grantees we interviewed were generally positive about Labor's green job training programs, but most said they had faced challenges during implementation, including: (1) a lack of reliable green jobs labor market information, (2) insufficient time to meet grant requirements, (3) knowledge gaps surrounding green skills and changing energy policies, and (4) difficulty placing participants into green jobs, primarily due to the overall poor economy.

Labor has provided technical assistance and taken steps to monitor green jobs training grantees through on-site monitoring visits and quarterly reviews. During these visits and reviews, Labor officials assessed grantee performance, such as by comparing reported program outcomes, including job placements, to targeted performance levels. However, Labor provided only limited guidance on how to document reported job placements. Labor officials required grantees with lower than projected performance levels to implement corrective action plans. In addition, Labor officials told us they have taken steps to improve the quality of grantee reported data, such as by forming an internal workgroup to identify ways to improve the technical assistance they provide to grantees on reporting performance outcomes.

Why GAO Did This Study

Labor received $500 million from the Recovery Act to help create, better understand, and provide training for jobs within the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries, commonly referred to as "green jobs." Since 2009, Labor has also "greened" existing programs and funded additional green jobs training grants and other efforts.

In light of the amount of funding targeted to green programs within Labor, GAO examined: (1) what is known about the objectives and coordination of Labor's green jobs efforts, (2) what type of green jobs training grantees provided and how selected grantees aligned their training to meet employers' green jobs needs, (3) what is known about program outcomes and what challenges, if any, grantees faced in implementing their programs, and (4) what Labor has done to assist and monitor its green jobs grantees. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations; surveyed selected offices within Labor using two questionnaires--one for directly- funded green jobs efforts and one for other efforts; interviewed Labor officials and 11 out of 103 green jobs training grantees; and analyzed relevant Labor documents and data.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that Labor identify lessons learned from the green jobs training programs to enhance its ability to implement such programs in emerging industries. Labor agreed with our recommendation.

For more information, contact Andrew Sherrill at (202) 512-7215 or sherrilla@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor agreed with this recommendation and noted that it has already begun assessing lessons learned from the implementation of its green jobs grants. Labor also cited efforts to compile lessons learned to inform the design and implementation of future grant initiatives, including new approaches to capture program outcomes. It will also continue to collect information on employment outcomes and wages and will analyze these data once they are complete to provide a more definitive and final picture of the extent to which former green jobs training participants entered and retained employment. In FY14, ETA reported that its five-year impact study of the green jobs training grants is still underway. They are documenting promising practices collected from the green jobs grants in areas such as grants management, employer engagement, training, and participant placement and follow-up throughout the grant period as part of a comprehensive technical assistance plan. These practices were disseminated to the ARRA green jobs grantees during the final stages of the grants, and have been and continue to be disseminated to other grant programs that can benefit from these strategies. Labor also reported that it developed tools to support grantees in identifying documentation to support determining an individual's eligibility and reporting participant data and continues to work on developing a similar tool to support grantees in identifying documentation they can use to track various data elements and grant-related outcomes.

    Recommendation: To enhance Labor's ability to implement training programs in emerging industries, the Secretary of Labor should identify lessons learned from implementing the green jobs training programs. This could include identifying challenges and promising strategies associated with training workers for emerging industries--through both targeted grant programs and existing programs--and considering ways to improve such efforts in the future. For example, taking a more measured or multi-phased approach could allow the time necessary to better determine demand for an emerging industry and establish the partnerships needed to properly align training with available jobs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor agreed with this recommendation and noted that it has already begun assessing lessons learned from the implementation of its green jobs grants. The Department agreed that documenting outcomes is important and will work to provide technical assistance to ensure grantees adequately document outcomes. DOL will also continue to collect information on employment outcomes and wages and will analyze these data once they are complete to provide a more definitive and final picture of the extent to which former green jobs training participants entered and retained employment. In FY14, Labor reported that the agency continues to calculate additional information on employment outcomes through the use of administrative data (state unemployment insurance (UI) wage record data) for all participants served through the ARRA green jobs training grants (ending June 30, 2013). Results are available quarterly for a four-quarter period. For the four-quarter period ending December 30, 2013, participants who were unemployed at entry and had exited green jobs training programs show a 54% employment rate, with 88% of these workers still employed six months after exiting the training program. These results exemplify how the green jobs grants helped participants served through the program to find employment, as well as retain their employment, especially during an economic downturn. In addition, Labor reported that it has been collecting additional information on employment outcomes and wages using state UI wage records for the Green Jobs Innovation Fund program, and will continue to do so through 2015, after these grants have ended. While Labor recognizes the importance of good training-related employment information to manage and evaluate the training programs, it must prioritize its limited resources. The data has a certain level of subjectivity inherent in the metric and training-related employment data is often under-reported due to the high resource burden associated with its collection. There currently is no cost-effective method available to obtain the occupation of employment without using manual follow-up. As such, the data now being reported is the best possible available. Labor will continue to assess the quality of these data, and communicate with and provide technical assistance to training grantees for improving data on training-related employment.

    Recommendation: To enhance Labor's ability to implement training programs in emerging industries, the Secretary of Labor should identify lessons learned from implementing the green jobs training programs. This could include taking steps to ensure training programs adequately document outcome variables, particularly for targeted programs where tracking training relatedness is of particular interest.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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