In continuing our series on Workforce Development, this
article builds on November’s topic—The Disconnect between Education and
Workforce Development—and explains what modern workforce legislation has done to
address this problem. The first piece of legislation, the Workforce Investment
Act (WIA), was implemented under the Clinton Administration, and will be the
topic of this month’s article. Next month, we will discuss the latest in
workforce legislation, the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)
The modern system of workforce development was shepherded in
under the administration of Bill Clinton in 1998. The legislation that was
passed was called the “Workforce Investment Act” and was truly revolutionary in
how it determined that workers would be matched for available employment
opportunities, and trained if necessary to meet the demands of local
The first thing that was revolutionary about this
legislation was the establishment of state and local “workforce investment
boards” to oversee and be accountable for how local, state, and federal funds
were being expended in the name of employment and training. The boards also
required the majority of membership on these boards to be employers to assure
that employment and training decisions being made were market-driven.
The second part of the legislation that was revolutionary was
the establishment of the “One Stop Career Center system” in which multiple
programs that helped people find employment were required to begin working
proactively together. The multiple programs mandated to work together as a
Programs funded by the Department of Labor and
accountable to the WIBs through their oversight of One Stop operations
Postsecondary Vocational Education
Title V of the Older Americans Act
Trade Adjustment Assistance
Veterans Employment and Training Programs
Community Services Block Grant
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training
The programs “accountable to the WIBs through their
oversight of One Stop Operations include adult (adults with low incomes),
dislocated worker (those recently separated from their employment), and youth
programs (career awareness and preparation for both in school and out of school
young people). Another revolutionary step from WIA was the establishment of
benchmarks of accountability for these three programs. These benchmarks of
accountability became to be known as “the common measures” and for adult and
dislocated workers measured the effectiveness of training programs by measuring
how many of the trainees were able to find work (entered employment), how many
were able to keep their job for six months or more (employment retention), and
what the increase in wages has been since acquiring employment with their new
skills (wage increase). Similarly for youth programs, measures of accountability
for training programs are whether the youth was able to enter either an
employment situation or was able to access additional levels of
education/training, whether they were able to increase their numeracy and/or
literacy skills, and whether or not they were able to attain a degree or
This was pretty good legislation and was able to continue
operating with relative success for more than 15 years. However, there were
some major problems with WIA.
was severely underfunded. It frustrates me that these services
were slashed when they were needed more than ever due to the need to skill up
the workforce to be competitive globally. The direct result is that this put
the US behind where it should have been in the global marketplace. The peak of funding
for workforce development programs was in 1979. In real dollars, funding for
workforce development dropped by 70%, with the most severe withdrawal of
funding of more than 12% coming under the Bush Administration from 2000 to 2007.
of the legislation was on helping people get a job first, with training being
seen as a “last-ditch effort” to get the person employed. While it seemed like
a good idea at the time, this philosophy of “work first” has, over time, lead
to a lower skilled workforce at a time when more and more technical skills are
required in all industries around the globe.
The “work-first” philosophy was especially
damaging to low-skilled, low-income, and youth populations who were largely
“dumped” into service industry jobs with little career growth opportunities.
Some other problems with WIA legislation were:
Workforce development initiatives were not
actively coordinated with economic development
Workforce development maintained a social
service mentality and was not proactive in supporting business
Innovative workforce development programming was
largely grant driven, which meant that when the grant dried up, so did the
initiative. This also meant that workforce systems spent much of their time
chasing dollars for specific initiatives and would change strategies as new
funding opportunities became available.
Lack alignment (local, regional, state, federal)
of strategic planning priorities
Changing priorities with new administrations
Boards too big and ineffective
Silos of service – not leveraging resources and
collaborating as needed between system partners
Training delivered that did not result in
Reactive not proactive (too tied up with red
Best practices not widely shared, little to no
training for WIBs other than legislation rules.
Not supportive of entrepreneurship
Wagner Peyser funding largely run by those in
Civil servant positions who are not “motivated” to change or improve services
Need more on-the-job training (OJT) and
So, while WIA was most definitely a giant step ahead of JTPA
and its predecessors, it still needed some tweaking. So, on July 22, 2014, new
workforce legislation was signed into law called the Workforce Innovation and
Opportunity Act (WIOA). Stay tuned for more on WIOA next month!
Unlike most legislation the goes through Congress in a
painful and controversial way, WIOA was instead passed with huge bipartisan
support. It was pretty clear what needed to be fixed from WIA and how to fix it
(but that is not to say that the fixes will be easy).
Without getting too deep into the weeds about this
legislation, suffice it to say that WIOA:
Strategically aligns and promotes coordination
of key programs in employment, education, and training at fed, state, regional
and local levels through American Job Centers (former One Stop Career Centers),
These programs, Wagner Peyser, adult education and vocational rehabilitation
and former WIA programs (adult, dislocated worker and youth programs) are now
required to co-locate, share resources, utilize integrated intake and reporting
systems, and all of these programs will now be subject to reporting outcome
measures (such as credential attainment, entered employment, employment
retention and wage gains).
All training providers must report on outcomes
of students, promoting accountability and transparency of training programs and
those seeking training are not forced into “work first” before training is
considered as an option.
Builds on proven best practices such as sector
strategies, career pathways, regional economic development approaches, and
work-based learning (such as apprenticeships and on-the-job training) and
incumbent worker training.
four-year state plans be submitted to the Federal Department of Labor with two-year
updates (first report due March 2016). Local plans must align with state plans
and must include: strategic
planning elements, operational planning elements, operating systems and
policies, program specific requirements, implementation strategy, and assurances
There will now be enhanced employer services,
employer satisfaction surveys, and benchmarks of performance (yet to be
determined) in how well employer needs are being met by the American Job
And, last but not least, my favorite part of the
legislation, WIOA fosters collaboration of regional economic development with
workforce development initiatives, which has been my mantra for these many
years! In fact, the Obama administration has put out a report called: “Ready to
Work: Job Driven Training and Opportunity” that clearly outlines seven
principles under which both workforce development and economic development must
now operate…cooperatively. Briefly,
these principles are:
EMPLOYERS – Work up-front with employers to determine local
hiring needs, design training programs that are responsive to those needs –
from which employers will hire.
AND LEARN – Offer work-based learning opportunities with employers –
including on-the-job training, internships, pre-apprenticeships and Registered
Apprenticeships – as training paths to employment.
CHOICES – Make better use of data to drive accountability, inform
what programs are offered and what is taught, and offer user-friendly
information for job seekers to choose programs and pathways that work for them
and are likely to result in jobs.
MATTERS – Measure and evaluate employment and earnings outcomes.
Knowing the outcomes of individual job-driven training programs – how many
people become and stay employed and what they earn – is important both to help
job seekers decide what training to pursue and to help programs continuously
adjust to improve outcomes.
STONES – Promote a seamless
progression from one educational stepping stone to another, and across
work-based training and education, so individuals’ efforts result in progress.
Individuals should have the opportunity to progress in their careers by
obtaining new training and credentials.
DOORS – Break down barriers to accessing job-driven training and hiring
for any American who is willing to work, including access to supportive
services and relevant guidance. In order for training programs to work, they
need to be accessible for the people who need them most.
PARTNERSHIPS – Coordinate
American Job Centers, local employers, education and training providers,
economic development agencies, and other public and private entities to make
the most of limited resources.
In fact, the
report says: “EDA will include
job-driven training principles in its new CEDS content guidelines, which
provide recommendations and tools to help regions develop strong CEDS. These
new content guidelines will be released in fall of 2014 and will be available
to the over 380 current regional planning organizations as they implement and
update their CEDS as well as to any community looking to develop an impactful
economic development strategy for its region.”
Translation: every Comprehensive Economic Development
Strategic plan (CEDS) is going to have to include these job driven principles. So
economic development is now going to have to include workforce development in
planning goals and strategies for their region if they are going to utilize
CEDS funding from the EDA. This is BIG STUFF!
Now, is this WIOA legislation a panacea? No, of course
not…in fact there are many concerns about how to accomplish the goals of this
legislation…how to get the parties to work together collaboratively (like
economic development and workforce development), how to make sure there is
enough funding to assure that the goals established in a local region have a
prayer of being accomplished, how to get other organizations, such as higher
education, aligned to the goals established by the local region when it does
not represent a large financial stake for them, how to get the “mandated
partners” of the American job Centers to co-locate and share resources….and
lots of other concerns. BUT, that all being said, this legislation is
definitely another leap forward in the evolution of workforce development
programming and we will undoubtedly be revisiting this in a few years with
another needed update. However, in the meantime, let’s make the most of this
opportunity and take that bipartisan spirit to heart in each of our local
regions and make every effort to embrace this new opportunity to work together
to improve the workforce of the USA.