DWD Sec. Newson Talks About Employment Programs and Unemployment Insurance

In an interview with the Wheeler Report, Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson talked about his agency and plans for the next year.

What have been the major accomplishments of your agency recently?
We’re working hard to carry out the Governor’s agenda on job creation and developing the workforce. The Governor has put forward five priorities for his budget and we’re going to continue to focus on those. We’re going to focus on developing the state’s workforce.

With respect to our 2012 accomplishments, we focused on the Wisconsin Working plan. We talked about focusing on connecting jobs, doubled job fairs. We held over 60 job fairs. We started doing career expos. We sat down with employers and asked them what their needs are around workers. We went through our records and vetted and screened out people on unemployment insurance (UI). We brought those individuals in and did counseling and helped them with their resumes and preparing for interviews. We did one in Milwaukee and one in Green Bay. We’ve gotten great feedback from those expos. Employers like the approach. Small business doesn’t have the time or resources to do the screening. We placed hundreds of people into jobs with that approach. We were happy to be able to launch a new way to connect jobs with people looking.

We worked with the task force on minority employment. We were able to help people to get their license back. We got hundreds of individuals place in seasonal work in Milwaukee with seasonal work efforts. There are additional initiatives we’re going to be working on with the Governor’s goals to transform Milwaukee. We have a pilot program, My Life My Plan. The goal was to see 4000 MPS high school students develop academic and career planning. They’re working with the private sector, from work goals, to what classes to take, prepping for careers, financial planning. We’re helping set a framework for them.

Internally we looked at waste, fraud and abuse. We are now more efficient and we right sized how we operate. We saved over $2 million in efficiencies, we improved our process.

We are working on real time job data. This is a way to get information about the job openings we have currently. We have projection data, some of it 2, 4,8, or 10 years out. A lot of times the stake holders get the data and it becomes stale. We want more current information for stakeholders for curriculum development. Real time job openings, that’s six months to one year time frame.

Can you talk about Unemployment Insurance?
If the economy stays on course, we should be able to have the UI fund solvent by fall of 2015. That saves businesses millions of dollars of the tax liability for UI. Businesses can use that money to invest in employees and workers. We need solvency in the UI fund. We are working in 2013 in a partnership with the UI Advisory Council on reforms for Wisconsin. One of the main things we have heard from employers, particularly small business, is they want to see UI reform. They tell us they have jobs but they are having a hard time finding workers. The UI program was meant to be a safety net. It’s there for individuals who are dislocated from work. We want this to be temporary. We know Wisconsinites want the dignity of work. We want to help them transition back to work. The reforms the Council are looking at are to get workers back to work quickly. It saves on the UI trust. It allows companies to invest in workers. We’re going to work with the Council and the legislature to get some of these reforms moving. We think these are positive. The safety net will be there for individuals, but we want to help people get back to work.

There seems to be some confusion about employment numbers. Can you explain that?
In May 2012 I made the decision to release the UI administrative data. It shows us quarters. It’s the actual job data in Wisconsin. That is the best job indicator of job creation in Wisconsin over a period of time in an actual survey of the employers of Wisconsin. It’s the part of the UI survey. We tally those surveys quarterly. I put this number out because this is graduation time and I wanted the youth and graduates to know there are opportunities in Wisconsin, and not to leave the state. We’re required to compile monthly estimates. These estimates are volatile and inaccurate because of fluctuations and shifts. I’ve said this over and over again. This is less precise because of the number of surveys are lower. In May the monthly numbers showed we lost jobs, but we knew we gained jobs. We’re going to continue to release the information quarterly. Our hope is the month-to-month indicators will come back in line with the quarterly indicator. They should be trending the same way. We knew there was a problem when the quarterly numbers and the month-to-month numbers were not going in the same direction. We’re working with the federal government to get those back inline. Some benchmarking will be done in the spring and we’re hoping the month-to-month will come back in line with the quarterly and the UI indicator.

Final Thoughts?
I would like to say I am impressed daily with the quality of the workforce of the individuals at DWD. I’m so proud of the people at DWD. They’ve really stepped up to help people get back to work. I’m very proud of my staff. I’m happy to be the Secretary and lead such a dynamic group of professionals.