Atlanta seeks to rebuild troubled workforce training program

By David Pendered

After more than two years of review, Atlanta is taking steps to rebuild its troubled workforce development strategy.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

A year-long analysis of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency released by Mayor Kasim Reed seeks to address problems in an agency so troubled that a city audit suggested Atlanta should consider disbanding the agency.

A key finding of the review stated: “Today, Atlanta’s Workforce Investment Board and the AWDA operate in ways which are in direct contrast with the emerging best practices, and should be addressed as the AWDA plans for the future.”

The review issued two organizational changes for the city’s workforce program:

“Adopt a formal vision and strategic plan to drive implementation of the recommendations;”

“Reorganize the Atlanta Workforce Investment Board and AWDA,” including suggestions that the mayor appoint a business leader to chair the board, and securing training for existing board members.

The review also stated:

“It cannot be emphasized enough that the transformational process must begin with strong new leaders promulgating a strong vision for moving the system forward in a direction designed to provide real value to the city.”

Reed has nominated a top aide, Michael Sterling, to serve as the executive director of the AWDA. Sterling has served as the interim director since May and his appointment must be confirmed by the Atlanta City Council.

Reed said in a statement announcing the revisions to AWDA:

  • “Today’s competitive global economy demands a prepared and well-trained workforce. A workforce development agency that can support our city’s economic growth with programs, resources and initiatives that will put our residents on the pathway to employment is critical to our financial well-being. This plan gives us a roadmap to maximize existing opportunities and expand efforts to develop a 21st century workforce.”

The Atlanta City Council initiated the review of AWDA in June 2012. The council approved legislation that asked City Auditor Leslie Ward to conduct an audit of the agency.

The AWDA is housed in a bureau of the mayor’s office and operates largely out of the public spotlight. The agency had a budget approaching $10 million in 2012, about 80 percent of which was federally funded.

Ward delivered her findings to the mayor’s office in October 2012. It sat there for four months before then COO Duriya Farooqui issued her response, which refuted some of the audit’s findings and said the audit was not what she had expected.

The city’s audit found deficiencies so glaring that the audit recommended the mayor and city council consider discontinuing the program.

The audit determined the city spent $1.6 million in fiscal years 2011-2012 to provide training for 74 individuals who were placed into jobs. A total of 341 individuals were trained during this period by 42 companies.

Reed handed the issue to Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, soon after the audit was made public. Reed chairs the board that oversees Invest Atlanta.

Invest Atlanta began the search for a consultant to examine AWDA and recommend a turn-around strategy. Atlanta hired Maher & Maher, a New Jersey firm that was formed in 1987 and has worked with clients in the government and private sectors.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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