The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
May 20, 2016

Using local workforce systems to support career pathways

May 18, 2016

States are facing a July 1 deadline to implement new integrated workforce development agendas—and local workforce systems will be at the center of the action. By better understanding the local organizations and activities that prepare people for employment, help workers advance in their careers, and create a skilled workforce to support area industry, states can more effectively support integrated workforce strategies like career pathways.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 required states to submit four-year plans outlining comprehensive workforce development strategies that coordinate across core federally funded programs. Such program integration will require new and enhanced partnerships between education and training, employment services, supportive services, and employers at the state and local levels.

One strategy highlighted by the WIOA legislation is career pathways, initiatives that allow low-skilled youth and adults to combine work and education while obtaining postsecondary credentials that lead to better jobs. Recently, the Obama administration’s Skills Working Group released a letter emphasizing the federal government’s ongoing commitment to career pathways. In particular, the letter, which was signed by 13 federal agencies, promotes the use of state and regional career pathways to help low-skilled workers find meaningful employment.

According to the Skills Working Group, the following six key elements are necessary for building integrated career pathway systems:

  1. Building cross-agency partnerships
  2. Identifying industry sectors and engaging employers
  3. Designing education and training programs
  4. Identifying funding needs and sources
  5. Aligning policies and programs
  6. Measuring system change and performance

State and local leaders and their staff need a solid understanding of their local workforce systems to effectively implement these key elements. States and localities may find that some of the partnerships and funding sources needed to build career pathways are already in place. For example, community colleges may already be working with area employers to design training programs that help workers gain the specific skill sets companies need. Or a local foundation may be funding community-based organizations that help disadvantaged youth build job-readiness skills or gain employment experience. Additionally, local workforce development boards may already be collecting much of the data needed to measure labor market needs and workforce system performance.   

Our infographic and research brief provide a basic framework for understanding local workforce systems. We developed these products as part of a collaboration between the Urban Institute and JPMorgan Chase to inform New Skills at Work, a $250 million, multiyear initiative that aims to expand and replicate effective approaches for linking education and training efforts with the skills and competencies employers need.

Photo by Ben Filio/The Sprout Fund (CC BY 4.0)

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