A robust and adaptable workforce is essential for economic growth and opportunity. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), implemented in 2014, aimed to streamline federal workforce development programs. However, after almost a decade, it is evident that certain challenges still persist. The “A Stronger Workforce for America Act” seeks to address these challenges and improve the existing workforce development system.
- Skills Enhancement
The Act focuses on upskilling a larger portion of the American workforce. It allocates 50 percent of adult and dislocated worker funding towards skills development through “individual training accounts” (ITAs), on-the-job learning, and industry-relevant initiatives. Displaced workers deemed eligible will receive ITAs worth $5,000 to enroll in high-quality reskilling programs, facilitating their reintegration into the workforce. States also have the option to establish “critical industry skills funds” to reimburse employers, sector partnerships, and intermediaries for upskilling workers in priority industries.
- Accountability and Program Quality
The Act emphasizes the importance of accountability and program quality. It simplifies the “eligible training provider list” to ensure alignment with employer demands. The updated performance indicators prioritize employment outcomes and the effectiveness of serving employers. A performance accountability system is strengthened to hold states and local workforce boards accountable for achieving positive labor market outcomes and encouraging continuous improvement.
In addition, modernizing service delivery by promoting virtual services and community hubs aims to reach more jobseekers efficiently, ultimately enhancing the effectiveness of workforce development.
- Strengthening Pathways to Economic Opportunity
The Act introduces a new definition of “opportunity youth,” allowing for greater flexibility in addressing local needs. It requires that 65 percent of youth funds statewide be dedicated to serving these individuals. The Act places a stronger emphasis on work-based learning for youth and improves the quality of summer and year-round employment opportunities.
Furthermore, the Act strengthens programs assisting individuals released from prisons in transitioning back to employment, with a focus on reducing recidivism. It also enhances workforce education programs at community colleges by aligning them with in-demand jobs and recognizing competency-based assessments.
- Fostering Innovation
The Act authorizes a demonstration authority, granting states and local workforce boards the flexibility to receive Title I funds as a consolidated grant for five years. This empowerment allows them to adapt their workforce systems to better meet the needs of workers and employers while maintaining accountability.
Transparency in credentialing is promoted by providing detailed information on awarded credentials, enabling employers to make informed hiring decisions and aiding jobseekers in showcasing their skills effectively.
Facilitating skills-based hiring practices, the Act empowers state and local boards to offer technical assistance to employers. Additionally, competency-based assessments are integrated into the participant intake process, promoting a more skills-oriented approach.
Furthermore, the Act enhances Workforce Data Quality Initiative grants, encouraging collaboration, improving labor market data, and promoting evidence-based decision-making.
The Act raises the cap on pay-for-performance contracting, simplifying the process for local workforce boards to contract with programs committed to delivering positive outcomes. It also eliminates the prohibition on states using their governor’s reserve for incentives, thereby encouraging the use of this effective approach.
For workforce development professionals, this Act signifies an important shift in how we approach the development of our workforce. The successful implementation of these changes will play a crucial role in shaping the future of American labor and ensuring that our workforce remains competitive and resilient in an ever-evolving global economy.