OBAMA JOB WATCH: Employment and Training Administation (Updated June 30)

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UPDATE, June 30: Jane Oates has been confirmed by the Senate.

UPDATE, Apr. 10: President Obama announced his intent to nominate Jane Oates to serve as assistant secretary of employment and training.

UPDATE, Feb. 4: Sources have told us that Jane Oates is the lone name that was submitted for ETA by Secretary of Labor Designee Hilda Solis. As we have all learned, nominees are far from a sure thing for confirmation, but if and when Solis is confirmed it is entirely likely that Oates is the pick.

Two names have surfaced for ETA, which manages the Labor Department's YouthBuild program, the Multiple Education Pathways Initiative, and all of the youth programs funded out of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). One is Sandi Vito, acting secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry in Pennsylvania, and the other is Jane Oates, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education. 

Vito has brought acclaim for Pennsylvania's workforce development efforts, and her attention to youth issues has won the respect of major youth work organizations in the state.

One source that supports Vito for the ETA job mentioned two major achievements. In 2005, Vito began seeding the creation of regional youth intermediaries in 12 of the state's 22 workforce regions. There are now intermediaries coordinating youth workforce development in almost every region.

She also helped earn the state about $1 million in WIA incentive awards, then used that money, along with some discretionary state funds, to pay for a strategic assessment of out-of-school youth.

But, according to the source who backs Vito, "it's hard to imagine that Jane Oates won't get [ETA] if she wants it." That is not really a question; sources close to Oates say; she wants it.

Like Vito, Oates receives high marks from youth work observers. She has a powerful position within Gov. Jon Corzine's cabinet and has strong ties to Washington. From 1997 to 2006, Oates was Sen. Ted Kennedy's senior advisor for a host of youth-related areas: higher education, workforce development, national service, vocational education, education and educational research.

"I think she would be exceptional," said Larry Brown, president of WAVE Inc., a national organization that serves dropouts and youth at risk of dropping out. "She knows business, she knows the issues."

Brown worked with Oates on a few issues. He was most impressed with her forthrightness in a job where many try to finesse direct answers.

"If she could do something for us, she said she would and then did it," Brown said. "If she couldn't, she was straightforward about why."

If ETA were to expand the Multiple Education Pathways Initiative - which thus far is a $3 million investment with seven sites focusing on reconnecting dropout youths - Oates' education background would make her a natural fit to oversee the program.

"We really need an integrator in both education and labor," said Stephanie Powers, who oversees the National Fund for Workforce Solutions for the Council on Foundations. Education and training has to go hand in glove, we've got to build a more seamless system."

On the other hand, Vito is the candidate more familiar with the inner workings of WIA, at least on the state side.

"If I could wave a magic wand I'd put Sandi at ETA and put Jane somewhere [high up] in Education," the Vito supporter said.