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posted: 3/22/2013 4:51 PM

Kane job training agency shows questionable track record, officials say

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The Kane County agency tasked with helping local residents get off the unemployment rolls fell under scrutiny this week for what at least one county official believes is a track record of not translating federal dollars into enough jobs.

The Kane County Department of Employment and Education administers millions of federal dollars to provide job training in Kane, DeKalb and Kendall counties. KCDEE was restructured in mid-2011 following an audit of the River Valley Workforce Investment Board's use of $6.1 million in federal dollars. The audit found organizational flaws, including improper financial oversight to the extent KCDEE lost track of how much money it had left to spend at one point. Following that, the county's Office of Community Reinvestment took over KCDEE for the workforce investment board.

Kane County Board member Phil Lewis said Wednesday he still isn't impressed by KCDEE's track record of placing unemployed local residents in jobs. Lewis was a member of the workforce investment board during the time of the financial blunders revealed in the audit. Nonetheless, Lewis opposed a plan this week to add more front-line job counselors at the agency.

"There's been an efficiency issue at KCDEE for a number of years," Lewis said. "I don't see the performance that the people are getting jobs. Performance, to me, is a person walks in. They seek assistance. Our people do a quality job of assessing talents and matching them to a program that will improve their skills. Then, they go out and get a job."

The latest report on KCDEE's efforts demonstrates the basis for Lewis' complaint. From July 2012 through December 2012, KCDEE served 1,191 people looking for job retraining and placement. Of those 1,191 people, only 199 (less than 17 percent) had found a job at the time of the report. KCDEE spent nearly $811,000 in federal money on training for those unemployed workers during that same time period. Looking at it another way, those 199 resulting jobs cost about $4,075 a piece.

Part of the problem, Lewis and other members of the county board's Jobs Committee speculated, may be the quality of the job counselors helping those unemployed residents. Right now, each counselor has a caseload of about 86 people, which is 11 more than the recommended maximum amount. The counselors earn an annual salary of $26,622. That low salary may not be attracting the talent the county needs to really help the unemployed find jobs, Lewis said. County board members have a chance to change that salary this summer since the union contract governing those positions will expire. Until then, the county board is poised to fill four vacant job counselor slots to ease the caseload.

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