The new director of the local Workforce Investment Network program wants to take the employment-training program a step further by broadening its impact and continuing to work closely with employers.
Naomi Earp is former chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, leaving the post in June 2009. She was appointed to the EEOC by former President George W. Bush in 2003 and became chairwoman in 2006. President Barack Obama made Earp acting EEOC chairwoman when he took office in 2009.
From there she was director of the office of opportunity, inclusiveness and compliance for the Library of Congress.
She came to City Hall a year ago this month as the city’s equal employment opportunity labor relations coordinator and became supervisor of the labor relations division.
She described the posting as “trial by fire.”
“It was not just the daily grievances and complaints,” Earp said. “Getting geared up for negotiations and contract talks just required an incredible amount of organization and savvy.”
Earp follows attorney Desi Franklin at WIN, whom she credits for bringing WIN out of “tumultuous times with the state and federal governments threatening to take back all of the funds.”
WIN is not a city program, although Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. appointed both Franklin and Earp. It is a federally and state-funded program that covers Shelby and Fayette counties.
Earp said the organization has been recovering from audits by state and federal overseers critical of a lack of accountability including a lack of pay receipts and work records.
“Desi spent much of her time righting the ship,” Earp said. “My job at this point is to take WIN to the next level – to perfect our strategic plan, to begin some very concerted work on one of the mayor’s priorities which is a solid re-entry program for ex-felons and for us to continue to be partners, to sit at the table with EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine) and others to match the workforce with the jobs in the area.”
Franklin’s tenure saw partnerships between employers, like Electrolux and Blues City Brewing, and Southwest Tennessee Community College to train workers specifically for jobs at both. The training programs were a reaction to initial pools of applicants that were found wanting by both companies.
WIN convinced them that with training, the search for the right workforce is a matter of specific job-ready training and not a general search or appeal for workers.
“Training a person can sometimes cost five times more than just keeping somebody who is already there, even if they are not very productive,” Earp said, talking of the Electrolux experience that will include adding another 300 or so employees by the end of 2013.
“They had a very, very vested interest in making sure that the people they brought on came in with not just the technical understanding but some cultural understanding of how that corporation operates.”
Human resources executives and other Electrolux supervisors are part of the classroom experience in the training programs at Southwest.
“By the time one of our participants, who may have been unemployed for a year or more gets through the industrial readiness training at Southwest, they have already begun to bond with employees from Electrolux and with other class members that will be coworkers,” Earp said.
Adding an emphasis on ex-felons as part of WIN is a foray into another city program that has had its past problems. And Earp emphasized it won’t be a wholesale entry into re-entry.
“It’s been a WIN function, but what we’re going to try to do is make it a very strategic initiative,” she said. “What I’m going to try to do is have a more strategic and leveraged use of the resources. It’s been around but somewhat fractured. We want to try to build a solid program around it.”
From her time in Washington during the change of administrations from Republican to Democratic, Earp is also familiar with the uncertainty of continued federal funding.
“I think federal funding is always at risk of being reduced,” she said. “But there are priorities that every administration is committed to: long-term unemployed, dislocated workers, workers that are trade impacted. I think those elements of our program will be around both from the state and its support and the federal government and its support.”
A long-term goal is to find other funding sources for the training programs, which are now in some cases supported by the employers.
“I wouldn’t rule out some kind of fee for service,” Earp said. “I wouldn’t rule out the ability to get additional grants from foundations. We’re just going to try to think outside the box and see what ways we can improve and increase our income streams.”