The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
December 15, 2015

Employer engagement: Getting it right under WIOA

Last summer, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the new law of the land governing public workforce programs—programs that help match workers with jobs and provide training. One notable change from the preceding Workforce Innovation Act is that WIOA puts a stronger focus on engaging employers as partners in these efforts.

Although making employers a part of public workforce programs is not a new idea, there is mounting evidence (see chapter 9) that this leads to better outcomes for jobseekers. Public and private funders are increasingly expecting service providers to have employers at the table.

But due to issues like resource constraints, reluctant employers, communication challenges, and competition among providers, workforce systems and programs have long struggled to bring employers into the fold. What will it take to overcome these obstacles?

The first step is thinking through strategy. In a new brief, we lay out a framework for thinking about the goals and dimensions of employer engagement, and how providers and other stakeholders can be strategic about their reasons and methods for engaging employers.  

Beyond the obvious goal of helping program participants prepare for and secure jobs, there are many other reasons why workforce organizations should strive to partner with employers. Understanding these intermediate goals can help workforce organizations figure out how to best involve employers in their programs:

  • To build knowledge of industries or occupations: This can be to inform program design, but also to help participants make informed choices about program participation or to engage in career planning.
  • To help participants gain appropriate skills and experience: Employers can help participants gain skills by informing program design, but they can also play a more direct role. This can include activities such as participating in mock interviews or offering opportunities to build skills at the work site through internships or apprenticeships.
  • To establish credibility and access networks: By involving employers, workforce development programs can heighten credibility not only with other potential partners, but also with program participants. Employer involvement sends a message about a real link to jobs.
  • To effect change for workers: Although helping participants access jobs may be the ultimate goal of employer engagement activities, some programs also aim to achieve broader improvements for workers, such as better wages or working conditions.
  • To generate resources: Employers can pay directly for education and training, but also can contribute in-kind resources like training space or industry-relevant equipment.  

By starting with these goals, workforce development programs can identify how to best involve employers in their programs. They can also work toward developing deeper partnerships so that they can help participants build the skills they need to secure employment.

This post and the accompanying policy debate expand upon a research brief on workforce development, released today by the Urban Institute. These products were funded as part of a broader collaboration with JPMorgan Chase. Over the next five years, Urban researchers will be working with JPMorgan Chase to inform and assess the company’s philanthropic investments aimed at expanding opportunity for people and communities. One of these investments is New Skills at Work, a $250 million multiyear workforce development initiative that aims to expand and replicate effective approaches for linking education and training efforts with the skills and competencies employers need. Learn more about Urban’s collaboration with JPMorgan Chase here.

Johnnie Daniels, center, and Kerwin Barber, second from right, sort through job listings, as Carlene Gepner, left, a business service coordinator, stands prepared to answer questions at the Los Angeles Mission for the 7th annual Employment and Training Collaborative of Hope Central Career Fair Thursday, June 5, 2008, in Los Angeles. Photo by Ric Francis/AP

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