Tennessee Receives Grant for Workforce Development

By Amos Maki

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce has announced the United States Department of Labor awarded the state $697,963 for exceeding all performance goals that were set for the state’s workforce development and education activities.

The United States Department of Labor has awarded the state of Tennessee nearly $700,000 for exceeding all performance goals that were set for the state’s workforce development and education activities.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Tennessee is one of only 15 states in the nation to qualify for the incentive grant, and the amount of Tennessee’s award is the fifth highest in the qualifying states.

“This achievement is significant because it demonstrates how we contribute toward the governor’s vision of making Tennessee the No. 1 state in the Southeast for high quality jobs,” said Labor and Workforce Development Acting Commissioner Burns Phillips. “We will use this award money to continue investing in the skills and employability of Tennessee’s workforce.”

The $697,963 in incentive income will be shared with the divisions of Workforce Services and Adult Education within the Department of Labor & Workforce Development. During the past 11 years, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has been recognized seven times for exceeding performance levels in Workforce Investment Act and Adult Education performance outcomes.

Things weren’t always so great in Memphis, which became a black eye on the state.

It was one of the fist issues to confront incoming-Mayor A C Wharton Jr. when he entered City Hall in 2009. One of the first things he saw on his desk was a letter asking him to surrender city control of the struggling Workforce Investment Network to the state or an outside organization. The state was even threatening withholding money for job training form the city.

WIN operates the Memphis Area Career Center with partners including the state, vocational rehabilitation groups and adult-education providers. For nearly a decade, the agency’s spending and management concerned the state.

In 2007, WIN had to return $437,987 because it failed for two years to spend it, a first in Tennessee. The money – federal dollars funneled through state government – was earmarked for training dislocated workers, people who had been laid off or were going to be. A report by an outside consultant released in 2008 found an “internal struggle” over “trust, authority, roles and responsibilities, organizational structure and communication” had consumed the agency.

In 2009, WIN and the city Office of Youth Services worked together on the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program. The $4.9 million the city received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to boost enrollment in the summer jobs program was passed through the state to WIN. Many young people who participated in the program were not paid the proper amounts, and the city launched a review of the program’s operations. Sara Lewis, head of the city’s Youth Services and Community Affairs office, which administered the program, resigned.

After all the drama, the state, the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce and Memphis Tomorrow urged the city to give up control of WIN.

But after meetings with Wharton and his staff, the state allowed the city to maintain control of the office. In December 2009, the state released $11 million it had withheld from WIN since 2000. Since April 2010, WIN has secured an additional $2.2 million in grants. In fiscal years 2011 and 2012, WIN’s strategic plan was approved by Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development without conditions – a first for the office.