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Iowa Early Warning / Layoff Aversion

On July 1, 2008, the Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) Department received a three year grant from U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Training Administration (DoL/ETA). During the first two years, IWD engaged various contractors to develop several products:

  • Community Layoff and Crisis Response Manual;
  • Asset Maps for five regions covering the entire state;
  • Early Warning System Dashboard;
  • Peer-to-Peer Business Network; and
  • A series of five Social Network Map Reports keyed to each of the five regions.

Using those products to the extent that would be productive, the goal during the final year three phase of the grant was to develop an early warning / layoff aversion (EW/LA) system that could both be sustainable in Iowa and a model that could be replicated by other states. In September 2010, Maher & Maher was awarded the contract to assist the State in implementing its year three grant activities through June 30, 2011.

In conceiving the EW/LA system, we used a broad generic definition: EW/LA is the emerging statewide system for dealing with at-risk firms, potential layoffs and dislocated workers. One of the first tasks we undertook was to discern the State’s intentions, desires and vision for Iowa’s Early Warning and Layoff Aversion system. This would allow us to provide IWD management with design options customized to the State’s needs. However, there were any number of conditions that limited the State’s capacity to make clear decisions on the design options at that point in time, including:

  • Impending transition from one gubernatorial administration to the next, which also involved a change in parties;
  • Interim leadership at IWD (and related State agencies), and all the uncertainties associated with those types of transitions;
  • The fact that Iowa had successfully obtained a number of Regional Innovation (RIG) Grants, which meant that overall collaborative approaches – across silos and jurisdictional and lines – had already been initiated in a number of areas in the State, with mixed results; and
  • The specter of deep budget cuts in traditional programs began to loom once ARRA funding for various projects expired and economic recovery was not yet certain.

In addition, it was generally felt that establishing a pilot would help the State, working with the consultants, to determine those elements of a statewide design that should ultimately be uniform throughout the State, and which elements should be left to regional discretion and discussion; and the pilot would help identify those areas where state-level support would be needed to achieve success.

Our objectives thereby became twofold:

  • To provide support for the state-level leadership role of IWD; and
  • To provide for the formation of regionally-based, industry-focused collaboratives to begin implementation at the regional level, which is, after all, where results would be achieved.

For all these reasons, the focus of the necessary design decisions became a pilot EW/LA project in the State’s Southwest region. This approach, which was also advanced by the Project Advisory Committee, did much to reduce the “moving target” nature of the project, as it was decided, in the end, that “whatever is best for the region, is best.” As a result, when Maher did present those design options to the State, it was in a report entitled “Decision Paper on System Design for Pilot Implementation”. And when Maher and the State collaborated on delivery of two Regional Summit sessions at the end of the project, dissemination of pilot project materials and experiences became the events’ focus. Therefore, in a very real sense, the Southwest Region pilot helped to focus the design of the statewide system, even as it served as a trial implementation activity.

After a Project kickoff meeting; formation and convening of the project Advisory Committee; and a review of products from years one and two, we conducted a nationwide survey of existing state and regional EW/LA systems, supplemented by a literature review and additional research. While realizing that “whatever works best for each region would be best”, we then developed an ideal process for initiating a regional EW/LA program – shown on the following page – and constructed a validated list of System Design Elements. Each of the nine total steps within the three-phase process required a number of decisions on the part of regional leaders.

Early Warning / Layoff Aversion Framework

We then proceeded to work with the State to organize pilot planning. Regional leaders from IWD, two community colleges,  Economic development organizations, County boards of supervisors/WIB members, Iowa State University extension service/Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Utility companies, and other businesses collaborated on each planning step, as identified in the graphic. As the EW/LA demonstration project began to wind down in May and Pilot leaders prepared to actually begin operations, the Pilot area was divided into Eastern and Western sub-regions.  This made operational sense because the “Southwest” regional area identified for the project actually encompassed two distinct labor market areas – one oriented to the populous Council Bluffs/Omaha area and the other toward the more rural Creston and Union County area. Moreover, the Southwest “region” also contained two entire IWD service area regions and community college regions, with the IWD and community college regions being contiguous.

Building the foundation for deployment throughout the State, and ultimate sustainability, was begun through implementation of two regional summit sessions. Our final report documented the project’s process and accomplishments, and also offered lessons learned and recommendations for continuing development of early warning and layoff aversion systems and activities, including:

  • Recommendations aimed at helping Iowa continue enhancement and expansion of its system; and
  • Recommendations for other states interested in creating an Early Warning/Layoff Aversion system.