March 2020 hit a record-breaking high for unemployment claims in the United States. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of unemployed persons rose from 1.4 million to 7.1 million according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 5.2 million filed by mid-April. While millions of people continue to file every week, the workforce and unemployment departments are handling this drastic increase in system traffic. Many being overwhelmed by the demand as they deal with the immense number of administering systems and the different requirements that come along with each of them. That being the first of four points for improvement.
On the federal, state, and local levels there are an overwhelming number of workforce systems and tools with numerous requirements and access levels. According to a report by the National Association of Workforce Boards, “each program administers separate nationwide workforce-related data systems that encompass different technical directives, are built to different data and systems standards, and require different levels of legal authorization to access.”
These programs are so complex, that many local agencies build or buy their own tools and databases—which only increases the number of data sources to keep track of. It is unrealistic to maintain knowledge of multiple systems, each with a different user interface and navigation. It also stretches the capabilities of issuing, servicing, enforcing, and auditing staff. Disparate systems are the enemy of efficiency. When systems don’t align, it takes even longer for constituents to get the information they need, including receiving or updating their continuing education units, proof of training, or professional licenses.
To properly service the needs of workforce boards (who often employ 10 or fewer staff members), the easy and efficient solution is to manage credentials on a single digital platform. A digital credentialing platform that does it all—issuing, verifying, data-holding, and data-sharing—will ease the stress of the workforce department and help prevent staff from becoming overwhelmed during a time when the demand has increased for their services by displaced workers.
Merit’s WorkNow program was launched with this in mind, in order to assist states with their efforts to get millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Merit allows digital and central storage and management of the credentials and certifications that people have already earned. If fully implemented in a state, Merit WorkNow will grant state agencies – including departments of workforce, labor, licensing, regulation, unemployment, and other associated agencies – instant access to verified, up-to-date information in one place.
If these administering systems continue to be specific and distinct to only the departments using them, the path to economic recovery will be much longer than we’d like. It will limit crosswalking abilities across agencies within a state, leading to the second condition that needs improvement: important data should not be difficult to track down when it’s needed. More details in our second piece of this series, Important Data is Hard to Find – and Even Harder to Take Action On.
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