What should state job search programs deliver?

Tom Koller’s been letting us follow his journey through unemployment and retraining via the Minnesota workforce programs.

So when a legislative report recently questioned the effectiveness of those retraining programs, we wanted to get his view. Turns out the concerns in the report match up pretty well with Koller’s experience.


Laid off as a machinist in 2008, Koller’s been navigating state programs for job seekers to become a computer network administrator.

He has a job now after months of working through the state retraining system — but it’s not the one he was training for.

Before we look at what Koller’s doing now, let’s ask a question — Should state jobless programs be judged on how well they help people find good jobs? What should we expect state jobs search programs to deliver.

Post your thoughts below or contact me directly.

Koller, 50, a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network from Eden Prairie, was laid off as a machinist in 2008 and entered the state dislocated worker program to retrain for a future as a computer network administrator. He got about $800 for training and earned his first Sun Microsystems certification.

Koller, though, has been unable to find a network administrator job.

He took a job recently — “no skill or education required” — picking up and delivering cable TV and internet equipment. With his unemployment benefits exhausted and savings nearly gone, this was his best option.

Koller figures he can earn up to $30,000 in the new job and his income will likely be low enough that he can still keep getting health coverage from the Veterans Administration.

So he got some training and found some work. But the work wasn’t what he trained for and he took it because he absolutely needed the job.

That’s basically what the legislative auditor found in surveying displaced workers who’d been through the state programs.

While most people in the programs were generally satisfied with the services they received, only a third felt like it helped connect them with employers who were hiring. Only 39 percent felt the services helped them get a good job.

At the workforce center, he said, the little things worked best.: “People with good attitudes and diverse knowledge doing some coaching. Simple answer and suggestions.Their suggestions matched what I was seeing at the time…”

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The audit recommends state officials start surveying people who’ve used state job help programs to see if they were satisfied with the outcomes.

“Anyone willing to put forth the effort to get ahead, will generally do better than those that choose not to,” said Koller. “While it really doesn’t take much to take advantage of these programs, it requires more than some are willing or able to do. Emotional, planning, and financial support cannot be forced on anyone. But I am glad it was there.”

Koller, by the way, hasn’t given up on his dream of being a network administrator.

“As for me and my continued studies, for about a month, they will be put on hold. I need to adapt to the new job first. ”

BONUS INFO: Read our October and November posts on Koller and his job search.

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