Good Government

Officials urge streamlining of workforce efforts

October 15, 2019

Ray Carter

State government efforts to connect employers and workers are disjointed—and therefore less effective—and need to be streamlined, lawmakers were told at a recent legislative study.

“We really are a little disparate in the state of Oklahoma on our workforce efforts,” said Sen. Rob Standridge, a Norman Republican who requested the study. “And so we’ve been looking at this for a couple of years on how best to kind of combine those efforts among the agencies—kind of a ‘one-stop shop’ thinking, if you will.”

The current system, he said, is comparable to telling employers to go “to the Yellow Pages and try to figure out what resources are available.”

“I think if we combined efforts a little among the agencies, instead of having each one of them kind of working down their own trails, it might be more productive for the state,” Standridge said.

Officials told senators that Texas’ system—which directs employers and job hunters alike to a single point of initial contact, rather than requiring citizens to contact multiple entities—could serve as a model for Oklahoma.

“The workforce system in Oklahoma is fragmented,” said Eddie Foreman, CEO of the Central Oklahoma Workforce Innovation Board. “Every funding stream is different, and each source has different eligibility requirements, funding cycle, and purpose. There’s a variety of state and federal organizations to oversee the program, confusion in the delivery of service, inefficiency, and in my opinion it’s more responsive often to the federal fund than it is to the local communities. And so I would suggest somehow that we need to move closer to what the Texas model is.”

Dennis Luckinbill, owner of Luckinbill Inc. in Enid, told legislators that employers and workers alike struggle to navigate the maze of Oklahoma government workforce entities.

“I’ve spent over, probably, 15 years on work-development boards, and I can tell you also with that experience, I was extremely confused for a number of years, because the system is extremely confusing and extremely disjointed,” Luckinbill said.

He said job hunters have to contact several entities to find job openings, and the same thing holds true for employers looking for workers.

“I try to employ veterans,” Luckinbill said. “Who do I call? If I’m trying just to get labor, who do I call? It’s very, very disjointed.”

Oklahoma’s disjointed system is especially challenging for low-income individuals trying to enter the workforce, he said.

“Our systems have got to be simpler,” Luckinbill said. “You can’t have somebody who can’t even get enough money for gas trying to go from point A to point B to point C to point D to find out, ‘Do I qualify for this program?’ It needs to be one place they walk in, they fill it out. One person helps them. Just like if you’re in a high school, you need one counselor. You don’t need multiple counselors.”

Laurie Bouillion Larrea, president/CEO of Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas, discussed how Texas’ system works in practice, noting employers all know where to go when seeking labor.

“One-stop. They know where to come,” Larrea said. “So does every employer in Texas—find your local workforce board, and we’re not hard to find.”

Foreman noted Texas passed legislation to create the one-stop approach, and suggested similar leverage may be required to force Oklahoma’s system to streamline.

“We’ve been trying to coordinate this, voluntarily, for 20 years, and I’ve been part of this for the last 20 years,” Foreman said. “And I don’t believe we’re any closer than we were 20 years ago.”