After more than a decade of continuing resolutions, a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) has passed Congress and should go this week to the White House for the president’s signature.
While in no way perfect, the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is a clear improvement over its predecessor. It builds on 16 years of learning and knowledge and will provide better opportunities for workers who need new skills for the new economy.
Our paper last year on the innovations and future directions of workforce development highlights some of the key ideas that are embedded in WIOA.
Encouraging innovation. WIOA encourages local workforce boards to use promising strategies such as career pathways and sector strategies to better serve workers and employers. The advantage of these approaches is that they connect employer demand for skills and worker characteristics and abilities with the design of education and training programs. WIOA would also restore the provision for governors to reserve a full 15 percent of WIOA funds for statewide activities, allowing them to support greater innovations in their states.
Attaining industry-recognized credentials. One of the new core performance indicators under WIOA measures a student or trainee’s progress toward recognized postsecondary credentials. Again, this is designed to link employer and worker needs, as employers can be more confident that graduates have the right skills.
Improving data for measuring performance. While the original Workforce Investment Act introduced common measures of performance, WIOA strengthens performance reporting by enhancing and aligning a set of performance indicators across adult (including adult education) and youth programs. The legislation also supports efforts to link participant data to earnings data across all WIOA- funded programs and coordinate state and federal evaluation efforts.
Refocusing on disadvantaged populations. The Workforce Investment Act dismantled most requirements around serving disadvantaged populations. WIOA does not reinstate these provisions but does require boards and One-Stop operators to develop practices that encourage providing services to individuals with barriers to employment. This could be challenging considering that states need to meet performance level requirements but could help ensure that more disadvantaged individuals receive the often longer-term services they need.
What WIOA does not do is return overall workforce development funding to pre-sequestration levels immediately. Funding would be increased annually until 2020, but states and local areas will continue to be asked to do more with less.
For more of the legislative details, see the National Skills Coalition’s great side-by-side analysis of WIA and WIOA provisions.
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