As state retools its pandemic-battered workforce, governor proposes relocating workforce agency

As Nevada struggles to shake the economic side effects of being overly dependent on tourism and hospitality, there’s an increasing focus on how to help the more than 1 in 5 Nevada workers who are still claiming unemployment benefits each week transition back into the workforce before many of the programs supporting them are expected to go away in September.

Part of that effort in the Legislature involves fine-tuning the operations of the Office of Workforce Innovation (OWINN) by shuffling it into a new part of state government — from directly within the governor’s office to under the purview of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR). It’s accomplished through the bill AB459.

Elisa Cafferata, head of DETR, said the move will take out “a whole layer of administration for all of us on both sides of the equation” by having funds directly allocated instead of through a process that involves sub-granting and monitoring. The much-larger employment agency — which is budgeted for 849 positions, compared to OWINN’s 10 — could add human resources, grant writing and fiscal management support.

“We at DETR are in very regular communication with the governor's office. They're very accessible,” Cafferata said. “So I don't think that that will change. What changes is that they are freed up from having to then also do this administrative work.”

OWINN was born in 2016, when Gov. Brian Sandoval issued an executive order stating that “the component pieces of Nevada's workforce development system exist in many different departments and agencies of State government” and “there exists a need for enhanced cooperation and collaboration among all entities engaged in workforce development.”

A long list of entities work in the space, including DETR, the Department of Veterans Services, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, school boards, the Office of Science, Innovation and Technology, various nonprofits and the Nevada System of Higher Education. Some resources and functions were transferred out of DETR in 2016 and 2017 to create OWINN, which is sort of a hub in the complicated web of workforce (we’ll let this graphic speak for itself):

Cafferata affirmed that the job and mission of OWINN would stay the same in spite of the reorganization.

“It's my impression that this cabinet level position will not be reporting to DETR, it will just be co-located with DETR,” said Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas). “It's more of a symbiotic relationship with the administration purposes. And it will still have all the jurisdiction and powers that it's always had.”

The agency’s tasks include coordinating workforce development activities, promoting apprenticeships and maintaining Nevada P20 Workforce Reporting, a longitudinal system that links K-12 education data with information about postsecondary education and the workforce. 

During the pandemic, OWINN has taken a key role in initiatives such as implementing the Emsi SkillsMatch software to match job seekers with positions that match their abilities, and has landed grant funding to help launch an initiative called Job Force to coordinate job placement and training opportunities.

“People may not be able to go back to the jobs they had before,” Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno said during a recent hearing about the proposed reorganization. “So I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out.”

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Legislature. Sign up for the newsletter here.