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Veterans' Employment & Training Service
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Orange Beach, AL - Speech

Espiridion "Al" Borrego
Orange Beach, AL
January 29, 1998

Good morning. The only thing tougher than following Vaune Shelbourn on the program is knowing that she will be speaking right after you finish, too.

There’s no one better at presenting complex, technical information in an interesting, concise way. I’ll try and do the same from a policy perspective.

It is a great personal honor and privilege to serve the veterans community as the head of the Veterans Employment and Training Service.

It is an agency which has shown the ability to reinvent many of its functions while continuing to provide important job development and training services to its customers — America’s veterans.

We also need the help of local organizations, like the Alabama American Legion, and others, if we are to continue to build on improvements we have made.

As we move forward, I know that we will have support from the Secretary of Labor, Alexis M. Herman. She is sensitive to the needs of veterans in the civilian labor force.

I have had several one-on-one meetings with her and I know she understands that veterans not only have special needs, but that they are also a group that can make special contributions to all employers — employers who need a qualified, motivated, educated, and drug-free work force to compete in the global economy.

Tom has asked me to talk with you about where we are as an agency and what I see as the future for veterans in a changing employment and training environment.

I really enjoy getting out beyond the Beltway and talking with veterans and local public officials. It’s awfully easy to get tunnel vision if you stay isolated from your customers.

I believe that clear, open and continuous communications are the cornerstones for effective government and an effective Veterans Employment and Training Service.

I see effective communication as a continuously flowing pipeline of information between VETS, the veteran service organizations, other DOL offices, state and federal government agencies, Congress, employers, and the taxpaying public.

Clear communication prevents misunderstandings and inaccurate assumptions, encourages innovative problem solving, and, very importantly, helps us manage the process of change.

And managing change will ensure that we successfully incorporate veterans’ issues and concerns into the evolving employment and training environment.

I believe that we all agree on the important goals for America’s veterans — services and training that lead to quality, career-building jobs.

But how we perform them, given the changing employment and training environment, needs to be examined in light of changing circumstances. Perhaps a bit of context will help.

Because the world of work is changing, the way we look for jobs is also changing. The old standardized Federal model which has served us for more than 50 years is rapidly becoming a broad variety of decentralized, self-service employment and training delivery systems.

In the old system, we were hands-on intermediaries between veterans and employers. As a central point of control, we could put veterans first in line and even restrict access to jobs so veterans could apply first.

The changing environment makes these practices obsolete. The priority of the employment service system no longer stresses universal personal service in the context of a traditional labor exchange.

Today, veterans service representatives are challenged to be flexible, adaptive, innovative, and skilled in the use of the latest technologies; all this while continuing to provide quality services in an effective and cost efficient manner.

Service also means coming to grips with what priority of service means in the new employment service environment. The definitions and measurement guidelines we used five years ago do not have the same meaning today. That’s how fast the system is changing.

We need guidelines and measurements relevant for today — our funding, our staffing justifications, and our commitment to veterans demand it.

One-stop centers, privatization, direct Internet access to America’s Job Bank, welfare-to-work are all impacting how VETS provides programs and services to veterans.

Veterans preference, priority of service — familiar phrases which are taking on new meaning as laws, policies, and administrative directives attempt to deal with changes in the workplace and the economy at large.

We need to hear from you, the customer, in order to develop the appropriate mix of policies, programs, and services that can best serve today’s veteran.

My assurance to you is that VETS is an active and determined participant in the deliberation, development, and delivery of employment and training systems which are taking shape today.

Just as we turn to you for consultation and advice, Secretary Herman turns to VETS to get perspective on the needs and aspirations of veterans.

Strategic planning will play an increasingly important part of VETS program activities.

The Government Performance Results Act requires that we measure success in new ways and that we justify our budgets and our staffs using outcome criteria that is measurable and quantifiable. GPRA will profoundly affect every aspect of how we, and all other government agencies, do business.

We are grappling with developing new performance measures for DVOPs and LVERs that provide outcome measures, as opposed to output measures, which is what we used in the past.

I can only say that this task is critical — it goes to the very heart of how VETS will function in the future.

When I left Washington, we were working on the testimony I will give next month to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on our 1999 budget.

I can’t give you specifics because it’s embargoed until it’s released by the President. But I can say that Secretary Herman has strongly supported our funding requests.

She told the national convention of The American Legion last September that she is working to guarantee that we have enough DVOPs and LVERs to improve veterans’ access to high quality jobs and to make sure that they always get the job search, development, and counseling services that they have earned.

She is also very supportive of our efforts to make sure that veterans don’t miss out on the chance to move quickly into good jobs because of lengthy and expensive certification and licensure requirements to qualify for the same job they did in the military.

VETS funded the study done for The American Legion which started this important ball rolling. And we are working with the employment and training community, with employers and unions, and with federal and state licensing agencies to see if we can improve the transition process.

Making armed services training translate to the private-sector work force is key to one of Secretary Herman’s goals for the Labor Department — that every American has access to skills development and lifelong learning necessary to get and hold good jobs in the 21st century.

Where do I see VETS going in the next century? Well, let me do a little crystal ball gazing with you.

I see quality as the watchword for us in the future — quality of services we provide to our customers, quality of jobs we make available to veterans, and quality opportunities we make available to our staff.

We can no longer be content with just finding jobs for veterans. We have to find good, career building jobs. We have to be concerned about salary levels, benefits, growth potential, and retention rates.

We must show that we are a valued added service provider, especially for veterans who may experience difficulties in the workplace because of perceived disability, discrimination, or homelessness.

By individually case managing services for these veterans, we are providing them with a new kind of priority which may not available to non veterans with the same problems.

In addition, our MOUs with the VA on voc/rehab and with OFCCP on sharing VETS 100 and EEO 1 data put us in a good position to meet these goals.

I see VETS becoming more of a pro-active marketing agency for veterans. We have to reach out to all kinds of organizations and let them know that veterans are a valuable but still underutilized resource in the civilian economy.

Our message needs to get to employer organizations like local chambers of commerce; to civic and religious organizations that work in your communities. Secretary Herman is a big believer in forging partnerships among constituent groups. We need to look beyond our traditional partners and make new alliances.

You know the local labor markets and local employment situations. You are an invaluable resource that can help us reach

The veterans who need assistance and the employers who have the jobs.

Finally, I see our VETS staff becoming more multi skilled. We have upgraded the VPA positions, adding senior investigators, working to secure access to the latest equipment and to provide the training to use it to its fullest capacity.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said there is nothing permanent except change. As we move into the 21st century, the needs and aspirations of veterans will change, too.

Our challenge is to anticipate them if we can, meet them when called to do so, and look over the horizon and be ready to serve our customers with the dedication and quality that has come to be the hallmark of VETS.

I look forward to the challenge and to working with you as we achieve success.

Thank you for your attention.