HEART moves to plug loopholes that cost agency millions

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HEART moves to plug loopholes that cost agency millions

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 14, 2021

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MANAGING director of the HEART/National Service Training Agency (NSTA) Trust Dr Janet Dyer has given assurances that the agency has moved to fix the loopholes which led to millions of dollars being disbursed for the continuation of community training interventions (CTIs) without proper evaluations of the programmes.

The monitoring gaps were brought to attention in the Auditor General's report on the capacity of the skills training programme of the agency.

The report, tabled in Parliament in last September, concluded that despite significant efforts and increases in admissions, HEART achieved a certification rate of only 45 per cent relative to enrolment in skills training programmes for the period 2014/15 to 2018/19.Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis said this suggested that the agency failed to obtain optimal value from its training expenditure of $30.5 billion.But Dr Dyer says multiple layers of accountability have now been put in place.“The organisation has undertaken an extensive evaluation of all our community training intervention programmes and reduced the amount of programmes per officer, allowing the officers more time to concentrate on the particular programmes so that they can lend higher levels of monitoring to each,” said Dr Dyer at a meeting of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament on Tuesday.The managing director explained that prior to the merger of the HEART Trust, the National Youth Service, Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning and the Apprenticeship Board, the agency had only four regions with one parish officer each, but the new structure had extended the regions to six, with 15 parish offices and one officer per parish.“We are beginning to see the benefits of this where a lot more attention is being paid to the projects, the evaluations are now being done on a more timely basis and we are now in a position to hold all our CTI and external training partners a lot more accountable than before,” declared Dr Dyer.According to the auditor general, HEART had failed to consistently ensure that adequate evaluations were conducted before disbursing further subventions for the continuation of the programmes with the respective CTIs.The report said the agency disbursed subventions totalling $2.9 billion to 142 CTIs between 2014 and 2019, and a sample of 50 evaluation reports for 24 of them – totalling $657 million – found that 21 of these reports did not include information needed to effectively assess the viability of the training programmes.Monroe Ellis outlined, for example, “that critical information such as budget utilisation, projected and actual enrolment and the number of trainees certified were not included in the evaluation reports to enable an assessment of the overall performance of the CTIs and inform HEART's decision whether to continue the training programme with the CTIs”.The report said HEART's own evaluation reports of the CTIs cited ineffective management and oversight of CTIs, poor coordination, low literacy levels and missed targets as some of the factors that contributed to the low certification rate.

Similar monitoring issues impacted other interventions such as the Career Advancement Programme Youth Empowerment Solution (CAP-YES) and the National Unattached Youth Programme, which were plagued by poor attendance and outcomes.

Both Dr Dyer and Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Audrey Sewell offered explanations for the low certification numbers.Sewell said the issues were varied and complex. “Usually when you have programmes that target persons from the groups who may not make it into the higher level tertiary education programmes, there are many social (issues) that affect attendance, certification,” noted Sewell as she argued that the varying entry and exit period also affect outcomes.The permanent secretary said it is also expensive to fund technical and vocational programmes, noting that one of the main objectives of rationalising this system is to ensure value for money.

At the same time, Dr Dyer advised PAC that the training agency will be seeking permission from policymakers to move its certification target from 70 per cent downwards to more realistic levels of 45 to 50 per cent.“Trying to achieve 70 per cent certification is a far stretch,” she said.The managing director explained that oftentimes once persons acquire the skill they move on to employment without the certification. She said the agency has been engaging these individuals to convince them to become certified.Dr Dyer added that the system continues to grapple with oversubscription due to duplicate applications as applicants tend to make multiple attempts to enrol.

There was a suggestion that this could possibly have led to a skewing of the certification versus enrolment numbers, but Monroe Ellis said that her investigations had contemplated the issue of duplication.


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