The nation’s workforce development system would receive a long-awaited overhaul under a bipartisan bill announced Wednesday by key committee leaders in both houses of Congress.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is the result of months of negotiations. It would finally reauthorize – for the next five years – a law passed in 1998 that has been getting by with year-to-year appropriations since it was originally due for reauthorization in 2003.
The WIOA also updates two other laws and addresses everything from adult literacy and job training to preparing youths with disabilities for employment. The goal is to streamline and coordinate programs and reflect changes in the field.
“We can’t expect a modern workforce to succeed with an outdated job training system. The current workforce development system is broken with too much bureaucracy, too many inefficiencies, and too little accountability,” said Rep. John Kline (R) of Minnesota, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in a statement Wednesday.
Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington, a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP), said in a statement that the bill will “give workers and students the resources they need to succeed…. It’s a prime example of what’s possible when Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate work together to write laws that help our economy grow.”
Here are some of the key ways the bill is intended to improve the current system:
• It consolidates and streamlines programs. Fifteen programs will be eliminated, though some of them were defunded years ago. More than twice that number would have been axed under the SKILLS Act passed by the House in March. In addition, states, which receive funding based largely on levels of unemployment, will have to submit a strategic plan showing how they will coordinate training, education, and vocational rehabilitation (services for people with disabilities). The system will also become more tailored to individuals, instead requiring that everyone follow a rigid “sequence of services” before they are trained.
• It requires all programs to show how they do on a common set of performance metrics, looking at outcomes such as employment, earnings, and postsecondary education. That means adult literacy programs can’t just focus narrowly on teaching people to read, but should align themselves with or even integrate into occupational training or paths to higher education. One big improvement to the performance metrics is that they would include retention for people in longer-term programs, who previously may not have been counted in the “success” column, says Jim Hermes, an associate vice president at the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington.
• It improves outreach to disconnected youths: Seventy-five percent of youth funding under the bill must serve out-of-school youths. This is significantly higher than previously required, and will enable better support for the field’s growing emphasis on dropout recovery programs, says Andrew Moore, a senior fellow at the Institute for Youth, Education and Families based at the National League of Cities in Washington. “We’ve seen good examples in places such as Los Angeles and Boston … with partnerships between the local workforce board and the school district to get young people back to school,” he says. [http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2013/0115/How-to-get-high-school-dropouts-into-recovery-Ideas-bloom-across-US]. The bill also lends support to strategies that focus on getting youths not just back to school, but also on track for credentials for jobs and postsecondary education.
• It boosts the preparation of young people with disabilities to work in competitive employment. States would have to set aside 15 percent of the relevant funds to help disabled youths transition to higher education or employment. And the bill assures them the opportunity to experience integrated employment. The WIOA includes various “groundbreaking changes that will raise prospects and expectations for Americans with disabilities, many of whom, under current law, are shunted to segregated, subminimum wage settings without ever receiving the opportunities and skills to succeed in competitive, integrated employment,” said the HELP Committee chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa, in a statement.
The compromise bill is more similar to a bill passed by the Senate HELP committee than the House’s SKILLS Act, in that it retains more guidelines for use of funds and more input for local elected officials rather than giving governors more control over how to spend the block grants, says Neil Bomberg, program director in federal advocacy at the National League of Cities.
“It’s been a long trail to get here. It’s almost surreal that it may actually be done in a manner of weeks,” says Mr. Hermes of the community colleges association.