How to invest the stimulus |

How to invest the stimulus

Tom Fitzgerald

This is a very interesting time for Nevadaworks, northern Nevada’s workforce development agency. The current economy is less than stellar, and the federal government is throwing truckloads of money our way. With some $6.7 million in stimulus money due to roll in before mid-April, Nevadaworks needs to know how to get the most bang for your buck.

Nevadaworks does not have the means to put people to work. Instead, it distributes federal funds to various local training organizations which then educate individuals in work skills needed in our area. With these newly learned skills, potential new workers will be better prepared as job openings occur.

No one is exactly sure which skills will be needed in which industries when the recovery takes hold and these federal funds must be spent properly. So how does Nevadaworks know which training ideas to endow? As its chief executive officer, I often announce, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” That line never fails to evoke laughter. But in order to defy logic and actually help businesses with

appropriately trained workers, Nevadaworks must first know what kind of worker skills are needed.

The Workforce Investment Act requires that Nevadaworks find out what workforce needs businesses have and then fund training programs appropriately. One way of getting that information is through the Nevadaworks board’s membership requirement of 50 percent or more business individuals.

Another way is to survey area employers and ask directly. Nevadaworks hired a firm to search Nevada

workforce data banks, conduct on-the-street interviews with the local community, and send surveys about employer needs to 1,300 area businesses with at least 20 employees.

The individual interviews were very successful. The data bank searching is on target. Selected face-to-face employer interviews were quite positive.

The consulting firm said to expect a 15-20 percent response level to the employer survey. Our sincere thanks to those involved and to the perceptive businesses that did respond. However, only a dismal 4 percent of the contacted employers returned the survey!

Why? Many employers just don’t get it. They complain about the poor workforce and demand schools and government do a better job training workers. They fail to realize that if their employee needs are not revealed, schools and government cannot respond in an appropriate manner. Some companies will not even interview individuals with certifications after training has been administered. Some firms are so fearful they feel revealing general information in a survey will somehow give an advantage to their competitors.

Some employers want everyone else to solve their problems. These stereotypes have been hampering our efforts for a long time and during this survey period, two examples have shown me just how out of touch some employers have become.

One individual received the survey in the mail, called me and complained about what a waste of money this project was. “The money should be used in a better manner.” A further comment was that in this slow time it was disgusting that individuals wanted to be paid more that $8 per hour.

When I suggested that these were the types of comments we were seeking in the survey and we would appreciate the survey being returned, the caller hung up.

Another person mailed me a letter stating “I … question whether this is the appropriate time to conduct it. The present situation is in stark contrast to a year ago …” My question is, when is the right time? Who decides it is the correct moment? Most training takes concerted effort and time. Should Nevadaworks do some type of balancing act making sure it has chosen the “appropriate” time? This person could also have put comments into the survey rather than just rant against our idea.

Sometimes business owners seem to feel that if they have a business, customers will automatically just appear. When economic times turn down, they complain about loss of revenue and many blame others rather than ask themselves: Has their workforce been properly trained? Is customer service stressed? Does the owners’ rude and arrogant behavior show through to customers?

When training problems are fully identified, agencies such as Nevadaworks do listen. We can use the federal

funds returning to our area to improve worker skills. We need a vibrant workforce for existing as well as new businesses. Proper, relevant training will help create that workforce.

All employers are not negative, and I understand how challenging today’s economy is. But it is their businesses at risk. All managers should do everything possible to raise the odds of survival and success. Professional and fully trained employees are a business’ best chance for survival. Tell Nevadaworks what type of workers you need trained in what manner so we can spend your tax dollars for your benefit.

Now is the best time in Nevadaworks’ history to improve worker skills based on business input. If you received the survey and haven’t answered it, please do so now ( If you’d like us to hear your workforce opinions on a regular basis, contact me.

By working together and improving worker skills based on employer feedback, we can position our region to rebound quickly when business enjoys its recovery!

Tom Fitzgerald is chief executive officer of Nevadaworks. Contact him at 284-1340 or through