by Danny Patterson
Significant improvements to WIOA are on the horizon – and as of last month, we are one step closer. On May 17, 2022, H.R. 7309, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2022, passed out of the House of Representatives and now awaits action by the Senate. This bill aims to reauthorize and strengthen the primary federal law—the WIOA of 2014—governing the nation’s workforce development system. Here’s my take and commentary on a few aspects of the bill.
From my Point of Vue, one sure way to assess the intended changes is to examine how definitions are updated. These definitions add focus to the programmatic shifts included in the legislation. HR 7309 is true to form.
Here are a few highlights through this particular lens:
These are good, worthy things to work on collectively as partners.
The other lens to consider is the anticipated changes in the area of governance. In other words, what structural or strategic changes are necessary to help guide the system towards achieving this new vision. First, as always, is funding. WIOA authors do not disappoint They:
That’s a lot, and it represents only a few of the shifts in focus.
My four key takeaways focus on job quality, new and expanded programs, improved planning, and business engagement. First and foremost, laid over all these definitions and structures is a focus on job quality. Or, to say it another way, those with competitive wages, benefits, and safe workspaces. Those quality indicators show up in the changes to performance measures.
The bill also affirms the workforce system is not a work-first strategy but, at its best, is an employment and training program whose systemic focus is on quality jobs and career pathways that lead to self-sufficiency. It outlines necessary and robust changes, provides new clarity and accountability, expanded programs, and calls for more diversity across programs. Added to that strategy are more meaningful business engagement and improved planning.
One straightforward way to improve the record on job quality is to engage with employers that are also healthy businesses. Employers who are financially stable or growing are more likely to invest more in their employees and provide quality jobs, which we should work with to fill with our skilled and job-ready clients.
The additional performance measure at the 12-month mark after exit is a crucial indicator of a quality relationship between the business, job seeker, and the workforce system – and demonstrates their added value as an effective intermediary between the two.
The legislation also makes some positive moves for summer and year-round employment for youth, incumbent worker training, transitional jobs, justice-involved programs, older workers, and gender-based violence victims.
I think we can borrow an old sales cliché – more positive leads generates more sales. The best place to start these strategies is with healthy companies. Whether for youth, incumbent worker training, or any priority groups of job seekers, this strategy all rests on the statement that quality jobs are in quality companies. These new areas of focus go beyond our placement strategy and require new thinking and the formation of new relationships with businesses. The challenge is whether your system serves a rural or urban setting, large or small; we need to be able to identify and expand our message to those who haven’t yet heard it and will receive and act on it. Regardless of the strategy, the message must communicate benefits to the employer.
We must be able to deliver on our promise of quality to our dual customers. Successful engagement and quality outcomes can then involve employers (large and small) in sector strategies as invested partners with the education community developing quality on-ramps and IWT programs. Nothing is better for our system than a positive endorsement from a satisfied business partner.
We know quality information is key to an effective outreach strategy, regardless of the reason or community served. Expanded programs and more employer engagement will undoubtedly result in more quality jobs for job seekers and skilled workers for employers. That’s a win, win strategy.
WIOA of 2022 outlines fundamental changes for state and local plans, requiring both to take a broader view of current and future economic shifts.
The new legislation requires states to consider in their economic analysis:
To meet this need, state boards may utilize other sources of data besides BLS occupational or industry projections to identify long-term trends not captured by one source of data.
Local plans should analyze regional economic conditions, including:
Moreover, local boards shall have a standing committee, which shall be representative of workers and their communities. They shall provide input and assist with responding to rapid economic changes. Changes include layoffs, a rise in unemployment, and emerging opportunities for in-demand skills and competencies.
The economy can change quickly and, sometimes, unexpectedly. WDBs should take a broader view beyond BLS data. They need to seek information from other business partners to simplify their planning efforts.
Evident throughout the new legislation is a recurring theme of a stronger focus on employer engagement.
Business engagement is key to improving access to jobs in high-skill, high-wage, or in-demand industry sectors and occupations. It is also crucial for expanding employment and career advancement opportunities for workforce system participants in those sectors or occupations. This bill invests in employer engagement by authorizing funds for local boards to convene and develop industry and sector partnerships. Ask yourself:
WIOA of 2022, if passed through the Senate, will create positive momentum for job seekers, employers, and WDBs. These proposed shifts are significant and seek to serve those most in need. Our task is to prepare them for that career. But the State leadership and local boards must strive to fully implement WIOA if enacted. Otherwise, it will simply recast historical practices with new names and faces. I am confident the desire and talent are in place to make positive change that impacts people’s lives. After all, that’s why we are all in this business.
PHOTO CREDIT: WIOA LEGISLATION, WWW.CONGRESS.GOV