Public Awareness Campaign - the Cornerstone of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission’s Recent Leadership Activities

Mar 18, 2011

Map of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commision counties

What are Public (Workforce) Services?
Carol Rayburn-Cofer, Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Director for the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and immediate past-president of the Southeastern Employment and Training Association (SETA), is concerned that the general public believes the workforce development system is only for economically disadvantaged people. She is also concerned that the public is unaware of the impact of the workforce system in her region, the state and even the nation.

She is currently leading the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, along with the twenty other Regional Commissions in her state and the Georgia Department of Labor, in developing a public awareness campaign. Carol discussed this and other insights about leadership in our recent interview for the Enhancing Workforce Leadership Initiative. Carol shared many  insights into effective leadership and we couldn’t wait to explore a few today. (We'll share the rest here and in the products we're developing as part of the project - sign up for project updates here, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.)

Public Awareness Campaign
The public awareness campaign will target local, state and national communities and stakeholders. At the national level, Workforce Investment Board members are sharing workforce system data and information with their legislators. This was in quick response to HR1, proposed legislation intended to virtually eliminate workforce services. All local WIB members took part out of concern for the impact that an elimination or major reduction of funds would have on individual businesses and job seekers in the community.

Statewide, local WIBs are working collectively to create an on-going public awareness campaign to inform the media and state legislators of the impact of the Georgia workforce system. As a result, many state and federal legislators have now visited the local One Stop Centers and talked with business and job seeker customers about their experiences within the workforce system. Statewide, WIBs are holding each other accountable on what they accomplish in the public awareness campaign within the 20 workforce areas.

At the local level, Carol has been preparing her Board members to inform local elected officials, education agencies, chambers, economic development and other community agencies about the impact of the workforce system. Board members have made workforce development presentations at local Kiwanis, Rotary, industry and professional associations, and elsewhere. In addition, they are increasingly vocal about their WIB work when serving on other boards and task forces within the community.  When working with key industry sectors, the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission has also helped the business community understand what it does and why it matters - many businesses were aware of the rise in people participating in training, but did not know that many of them were supported with WIA resources.

Relationship Building
Relationship building across multiple agencies is also a key leadership activity, according to Carol. She stated that it is not just about giving money to partners, but that building true partnership is about “getting an awareness of what partners are going through and finding ways to alleviate those issues”.  Carol cited several examples of relationship building in her region.  One example, that community partners call “Mega meetings”, was an outgrowth of Welfare-to-Work activities. These “mega meetings” are 1½ – 2 hour monthly luncheons where regional leaders from community based organizations, Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Labor, One Stop centers, and Department of Child and Family Services meet to update each other on current activities. During the meetings they also share problems and collectively develop solutions to address them. 

This type of relationship building has expanded to the WIB meetings where members share the issues they have noticed within the community so that the Board can discuss and create solutions. Sometimes this means that partners share their non-financial resources. During one WIB meeting the Technical College Advisory Committee discussed their difficulty in finding an available space to meet on Saturday mornings.  The Board offered, on an on-going basis, the use of the One Stop Center meeting room, along with providing refreshments.  In another instance, some of the partners were developing work programs where they would be responsible for payroll for the participants.  Since the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission had long term success in running payroll for summer youth participants, they offered to be the payroll department for that partner.

When Adult Education partners indicated they had long waiting lists for services, the WIB augmented their services so that dislocated workers would not have to wait to receive training.  The Northeast Georgia Regional Commission has also helped the literacy organizations and churches seek grants to increase services to non-readers and ESL customers. In addition, the Adult Education agency began providing opportunities for individuals to brush up on their basic skills two to three weeks prior to post-secondary training admissions testing. This has increased the trainees’ skills enough to help them perform better on the admissions tests, thus decreasing the number of prerequisite courses individuals must take. This reduces the amount of training funds required for each trainee. It's a systems solution.

These are just a few of the great ideas we gleaned from Carol during our conversation. We will be doing a more comprehensive analysis of all of her insights throughout the course of the project.