8 Big Commitments to the Workforce System in the House’s WIOA Bill
This week, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2022 (WIOA). Reported out of the Education and Labor Committee in March, WIOA is the foundation of our nation’s workforce development system, helping thousands of workers get better jobs that can support themselves and their families. While the economic recovery from the pandemic continues, WIOA is critical in boosting economic resilience, supporting dislocated workers, and reskilling workers for the jobs of the future.
Yet over the past two decades, funding for WIOA’s essential services has declined by over 40%. This limits the system’s capacity to provide services to new and existing workers, youth, underserved communities, and countless other Americans looking to improve their careers.
This legislation presents a key opportunity to bolster our economy and provide more workers with robust training, career, and education services. It would infuse the workforce system with $78 billion over six years for a wide-range of programs that would allow the program to serve up to one million workers by 2028. That alone is enough to support this legislative effort, but here are eight more reasons to applaud this investment:
- Promotes greater equity in the workforce: The bill requires states to develop equity reports that identify how they will address disparities in performance and employment outcomes broken down by demographic group. As part of this same effort, workforce boards are required to make appointments that better reflect the diversity of their constituents, while also increasing representation from labor organizations. The bill’s expanded definition of “individuals with barriers to employment” (a key legal definition) now includes groups who have been historically marginalized and underserved as a result of race, gender, sexual orientation, and national origin, extending priority of service to many Americans.
- Empowers community colleges: Although long valued as stepping stones to a 4-year degree, community colleges are also recognized for their responsiveness and capacity to provide vocational and job training. By codifying the Department of Labor’s Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grants, WIOA increases community colleges’ capacity to provide training programs that lead to post-secondary credentials and work-based learning models. It also equips them with the capacity to better assist individuals with barriers to employment and scale their career opportunities.
- Supports the registered apprenticeship system: WIOA promotes the expansion of the registered apprenticeship system through two general approaches. First, it provides $771 million over six years to boost the creation and capacity of sector and industry partnerships and training grants for community colleges, a large portion of which will go towards expanding post-secondary training and employment opportunities with an emphasis on apprenticeships and credential attainment. Second, it would make general eligibility and programmatic reforms to make work-based models such as apprenticeships a more central component of career pathways development.
- Dedicates funding for sector partnerships: The bill reserves funds specifically for sector and industry partnerships, collaborations that bring together various stakeholders, including employers, educational institutions, and training providers, to implement job and career-related programs at scale. Through such initiatives as the Sectoral Employment Through Career Training for Occupational Readiness (SECTOR) program, the bill prioritizes the development of career pathways, training programs that lead to recognized credentials, and programs that serve individuals with barriers to employment.
- Codifies grants for reentry programs: Justice-involved individuals face severe challenges in the job market, including high rates of unemployment and recidivism. By making the Reentry Employment Opportunity grants permanent, the bill provides community-based organizations and various workforce entities with greater levels of funding to provide justice-involved adults and youth with career and training services, transitional job opportunities, and supportive services meant to improve their overall socioeconomic standing.
- Modernizes American Job Centers: There are more than 2,400 American Job Centers around the country that provide workers with a range of essential career and training services. Yet not enough people are equally able to access those services, a problem exacerbated by the social distancing required during the public health crisis of the last two years. Under the new WIOA, American Job Centers would significantly expand virtual services to reach a wider base of Americans, in addition to expanding eligibility to qualifying online training providers. The workforce system’s footprint in local communities would also be increased by authorizing public libraries to serve as one-stop centers.
- Makes supportive services permanent: An ongoing challenge that the pandemic helped bring attention to is that the workforce system is not often accessible nor affordable enough to all workers in need. The latest WIOA legislation would make supportive services a required activity for adults and dislocated workers taking career or training services or during their first 12 months of placement in unsubsidized employment. The list of eligible services — which includes things like transportation, child care, and needs-related payments — would also be expanded to include mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and digital training, providing a more holistic approach meant to address the real-life needs of workers.
- Promotes accountability: Access to training is part of the solution, but that training also needs to be high-quality and lead to good-paying jobs and careers. The latest iteration of WIOA plans to achieve this through greater accountability. States would be required to conditionally fund training programs based on their performance results in helping workers achieve competitive pay and benefits. Performance measures would also be improved to incentivize the implementation of training programs that result in stackable credentials that lead to better-paying and high-quality jobs.
Through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2022, the Education and Labor Committee have put down a significant investment in creating a workforce system that is more equitable, resilient, and accessible to today’s workers. As the bill makes its way through the House, and eventually to the Senate, we hope Congress can pass WIOA, leading to an improved and better-resourced workforce system that better protects and prepares America’s workers for the jobs of the future, prioritizing skills, inclusivity, accountability, and increased economic outcomes for all Americans.