Workforce Alignment to Address Impacts of the Opioid Epidemic | Maher & Maher
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Workforce Alignment to Address Impacts of the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is ravaging communities across the nation and we are now seeing clear impacts to regional, as well as statewide, labor force participation rates. While data is still being gathered we know that in 2015, 919,400 prime-age individuals were not in the labor force due to opioids; and between 1999 and 2015, the decline in labor force participation cumulatively cost the economy 12.1 billion work hours and $702.1 billion in real output.

A number of public programs are aimed at addressing the health care and sociological impacts of this specific drug, as well as drug use generally. Yet, we have only just begun to address both the short-term and long-term workforce and economic impacts. Maher/IMPAQ has been following this issue closely for the past couple of years and we believe strongly that state and local level alignment—that includes the workforce system as a key partner—is essential to addressing the full scope of this problem.

In New Jersey, the administration has taken significant steps toward this institutional alignment, creating a promising model. The New Jersey Department of Human Services and the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services developed an Addiction Training and Workforce Development initiative, committed to increasing credentialed alcohol and drug counselors in the state. To support this program, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development provided funding to the New Jersey Healthcare Talent Development Center at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations to launch the nation’s first-ever apprenticeship program for Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors. “An apprenticeship is structured to provide clear benchmarks and more rigorous oversight than other training models, which leads to better outcomes,” said Padma Arvind, Professor of Professional Practice and Executive Director of the New Jersey Healthcare Talent Development Center at SMLR. “Our apprentices will learn to spot the warning signs of addiction and provide frontline counseling services to individuals in need of treatment.”

The state has also recently announced a continued, strategic, multi-agency approach which includes the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator of Addiction Response and Enforcement Strategies (“NJ CARES”), the Department of Law and Public Safety, among other agencies. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, has created a new office to track and address the opioid crisis, which publishes statistics weekly on suspected overdose deaths. The effort includes statewide opioid response teams, a NJ CARES Website, an inter-agency drug awareness dashboard, and the NJ Prescription Monitoring Program (NJPMP).

In a recent press release they note that, “The Administration is committed to leading a long-term, sustainable strategy that will support more individuals’ access to the critical treatment they need and will support the long, multi-faceted path to recovery that patients, families and communities deserve. The Administration also recognizes there is continued opportunity outside of direct funding to encourage deeper coordination, collaboration and common-sense policies across levels of government and stakeholders that will support a statewide approach to addressing the opioid epidemic.” (See press release here.)

So, how might other state level institutions think about aligning better to address talent supply chain and economic impacts at both the regional and state level? Here are some early promising activities:  

  • Developing asset maps for programs (such as employer resources, training and support services for those in recovery, etc.), policies, and contacts within states that already exist
  • Planning alignment of resources to assist our students and job seekers in recovery, so that they have access to career pathways
  • Partners that work with these populations at the state or regional level beginning to develop a common strategic plan
  • Thinking about new models for combining job training efforts with supportive services that help better position those affected for “re”-entry into the job market

in the Spring of 2018, the U.S. DOL/ETA issued a TEGL making up to $21 million available for opioids-related demonstration projects to: 1) build the capacity of the workforce system to better support those affected by opioids to make them job-ready; and 2) worker upskilling and reskilling needed to increase availability of addiction treatment services, pain management and therapy services, and mental health treatment.  I am encouraged by the federal level investment, but my hope is that even in the absence of new funding streams, states will begin thinking about better alignment of existing resources.

Maher & Maher and IMPAQ International recognize the value of workforce rehabilitation programs to combat the damage of the opioid crisis on both lives and the United States economy. We are committed to expanding our knowledge on the issue and to supporting opioid recovery programs that focus on workforce development. Additional information can be found here, and here

Maher & Maher is a specialized change management and talent development consulting firm based in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. The firm is U.S. Department of Labor’s national technical assistance provider supporting the Employment and Training Administration’s implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and a number of other priority initiatives of the administration that advance and promote the public workforce system. Maher is also currently involved in a number of sector strategy, regional planning, organizational strategic planning and training initiatives in multiple state and regional areas. For more information about our services, visit our website or call us at 1-888-90-Maher.

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