Utah Department of Workforce Services: A system integration model


My latest American Enterprise Institute report takes it all back to where it started for me professionally. In 1997, I was part of the team that worked with the Utah Legislature to implement the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Since that time, I’ve believed it is a model for states to use on how to provide efficient and cost-effective employment and training services, while also delivering the supportive services needed to help low income families work toward self-sufficiency. During my tenure at the U.S. Department of Labor and since, I’ve heard many people tell me, “It is Utah–people work together there.” or “It is a smaller state; we are too large to do it that way.” Well, in this paper, we try to demonstrate that it is the principles and approach that Utah got right, and size of state, demographics, and other factors are not the driving forces of workforce system design.

Key Points:

  • A 1992 legislative audit of Utah’s 23 workforce programs delivered through six state agencies revealed system fragmentation that made it difficult for Utah residents to access key services, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Over the past two decades, Utah has developed a particularly innovative approach in its efforts to integrate workforce, employment, and training programs.
  • The Utah Department of Workforce Services has continuously worked to integrate these programs so that residents in need can access these services through “one door,” systemically reducing the fragmentation that has hampered these programs’ effectiveness for decades.
  • In addition to program integration, the department has also integrated federal and state monies earmarked for these services through a unique cost model.

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Research over the past 10 years has shown that the federal government funds over 40 employment and job-training programs across a host of federal agencies.1 Several programs provide broad services to an array of workers who lack skills and are unemployed or low income, while other federal programs are targeted to certain demographic or socioeconomic groups. At times, federal employment and job-training programs fund similar services targeted to similar populations through multiple federal agencies, exacerbating inefficiencies and duplication in programming.

Within the boundaries of various federal program rules and regulations, states have latitude to design and integrate service delivery systems that patch together federal and state workforce and social services programs. That latitude is constrained to varying degrees, program by program, which means leadership and political capital are often the price for more efficient and effective service delivery designs.

To that end, some states have put in years of work to integrate programs, change organizational cultures, and maneuver through the state and local politics that accompany reforms and change. A recent American Enterprise Institute (AEI) report documented2 the degree to which states were effectively integrating workforce-related agencies and programs across seven federal employment and training programs.3 Clear levels of delineation developed when grouping state levels of employment and job-training program integration by using the number of separate state agencies and delivery systems as proxies. As these patterns emerged, certain states demonstrated an intentional and strategic approach to integrated service delivery design with a continually evolving mix of programs.

One of these states, Utah, has a particularly intriguing approach and history with many lessons learned and hurdles overcome along the way. While Utah, like many states, has its own identity, culture, and population size, the approach to integrated service delivery design, its lessons, and its successes provide a model for other states to use and incorporate.

This report examines the Utah experience in integrated employment and job-training program delivery—its origins, evolution, and current status. The integration Utah has undertaken and managed for over 20 years includes (1) service delivery integration in which eligible customers of multiple federal and state workforce development programs access services through “one door” and (2) fiscal integration in which federal and state program resources are allocated using a unique cost model. Utah’s unique history agency and program integration holds lessons useful for creating more efficient and effective workforce development approaches for other states. It also points toward the need for additional flexibility at the federal level to foster realignment and program integration.

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  1. Government Accountability Office, “Department of Labor Should Assess Efforts to Coordinate Services Across Programs,” March 28, 2019, https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-19-200.
  2. Mason M. Bishop, Landscape Study of Federal Employment and Training Programs, American Enterprise Institute, January 28, 2020, https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/landscape-study-of-federal-employment-and-training-programs/.
  3. The programs include workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I Adult Program, WIOA Title I Dislocated Worker Program, WIOA Title I Youth Program, WIOA Title II Adult Education and Literacy Program, Wagner-Peyser Employment Service program, Vocational Rehabilitation program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

A big thank you to Utah staff who met with us back in November and provided materials, perspectives, and assistance. Jon Pierpont Brent Orrell Matthew L. Sarah Brenna