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Training Sites May Lose City Funding

Services: Four L.A. groups that train workers are appealing after they failed a new certification process.

January 11, 2002|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Officials are preparing to slash more than $6 million in annual funding to four Los Angeles job training centers, saying the centers failed a new certification process designed to improve service to both job seekers and the private sector.

The action was taken by a city oversight panel that says it wants to improve the private sector's confidence in the quality of services offered by the training centers.

Two of the organizations--East Los Angeles' CHARO Community Development Corp. and the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment--have operated for decades and placed more clients in jobs than many of the centers that received certification, city data show.

All four groups are scheduled to appeal the matter Thursday to a Los Angeles city panel.

"I am so insulted that they would use a paper application process to weed us out of a system and totally ignore the 25 years of excellent track record we have," said PACE President and Chief Executive Kerry Doi.

He and CHARO Executive Director Richard Amador say the process was vague and unfair, could jeopardize their existence and leave tens of thousands of their predominantly immigrant clientele without reliable service.

But officials with the city-appointed Workforce Investment Board, which oversees the federally mandated system of job centers, insist that all were treated equally and note that 12 managed to pass. The arduous process was critical to convince the private sector that the hodgepodge of nonprofit centers operates with consistent high standards and can churn out a trained work force.

"The business community in general is not aware of this training or has been skeptical of the system," said Charlie Woo, a toy import company owner who chairs the WIB. "At the same time, we spend hundreds of millions of [public] dollars a year on it. The confidence of the private sector" is crucial.

The two-year effort to certify the Worksource Centers--previously known as One Stop Career Centers--stemmed from the federal Workforce Investment Act, a 1998 measure designed to place more emphasis on the private sector's needs.

"With those changes came more heightened standards," said Diana Peterson-More, who chairs the WIB's certification committee. "We felt it was important to have a process that could really reward change and recognize performance."

The federal law also gave local Workforce Investment Boards, made up of private-sector members, power equal to elected city governments. Under the old law, the council and mayor could override the private board.

Still, the plight of those organizations that stand to lose their funding probably will spark a showdown between the WIB and elected officials. The L.A. City Council today is expected to take up a motion by Councilman Nick Pacheco asking the WIB to grant CHARO a reprieve to meet the new standards. Pacheco said council members who represent the other organizations--PACE; Casa de Hermandad, which serves the Mar Vista area; and Advanced Computing Institute, which serves Koreatown and the Wilshire corridor--are considering joining the motion.

WIB members who volunteered their time as reviewers are opposing the effort as a throwback to the days when political patronage helped determine which organizations won contracts.

"This is right back to square one," said Doris Bloch, who also served on the WIB's predecessor, the Private Industry Council. Bloch recalled one instance in which the PIC tried to slash funding to a group with financial irregularities, but was overridden by the City Council.

"It wasn't the only instance where the City Council said, 'Too bad,' or 'Do it,' she said.

Pacheco said CHARO should be granted a probationary period because it provides critical services and has performed well.

"We have community-based organizations that perform above what's expected from them, and yet the WIB wouldn't certify them because of methodology," he said. "We need to understand how a high-performing organization can be criticized when they get such high results."

The board in early 2000 opted for a certification process based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, created in 1988 in the name of the late secretary of Commerce. The award is granted to entities that meet elaborate criteria to ensure "continuous quality improvement."

The award has become a forceful corporate marketing tool and has increasingly been sought by the public sector to overcome stereotypes of inefficient bureaucracy.

The criteria used to evaluate the organizations included factors such as leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, and "process management" consistent with the Baldridge process, but did not concentrate on the organizations' track record of job placement, according to Lori Strumpf, the Washington, D.C.-based consultant hired by the WIB to carry out certification.

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