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On May 17th, the House passed H.R. 7309, which would reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2022 (WIOA). The bill is an important step in this reauthorization process of WIOA, offering provisions consistent with NSC recommendations and significantly higher authorization levels for funding than when WIOA was passed in 2014.
WIOA is the primary bill establishing programs under the federal workforce system. WIOA was last reauthorized in 2014, and has been due for reauthorization since 2020. National Skills Coalition’s network has advocated for much-needed changes to the bill to ensure our nation’s workforce system is more successful, robust, and equitable.
The bill includes provisions that support key NSC priorities for reauthorization:
These themes are aligned with what NSC heard in our robust listening sessions with representatives from the workforce system, community and technical colleges, racial equity and gender equity experts, labor and labor management partnerships, businesses and industry associations and other experts in helping workers access and succeed in skills training necessary to fill jobs for which businesses are hiring.
However, the bill is missing a few NSC priorities relevant to how the system is able to engage with and meet needs of businesses:
New programs with dedicated investments in industry or sector partnerships that work with businesses, worker organizations, and training providers to promote quality jobs, workforce diversity, and inclusion
Coming out of our listening sessions, experts made it clear – as they have for years – that supporting industry or sector partnerships that work with businesses, worker organizations, and training providers to promote quality jobs, workforce diversity, and inclusion is key to an equitable workforce system.
The proposed reauthorization of WIOA adopts this evidence- based practice by proposing a new Sectoral Employment Through Career Training for Occupational Readiness (SECTOR) Program which would be used to develop or expand industry or sector partnerships, as well as expand support for training costs and support services. It also better embeds industry or sector partnerships throughout WIOA activities, including requiring states to describe how they will support these partnerships in their state plans.
SECTOR is authorized at $1 billion in FY2023 and would provide funds to:
The bill instructs industry partnerships to prioritize those training programs that include attainment of industry-recognized credentials, that address specific workforce issues and needs of groups of workers, and that prioritize individuals with a barrier to employment.
The majority of provisions would allocate funds to states, who are then tasked with administering competitive grants to local collaboratives to develop, convene, and expand industry or sector partnerships. Additionally, twenty percent of provisions will be competitive funding – meaning industry or sector partnerships can directly apply for grants from the Department of Labor. In keeping with NSC’s network call to prioritize those underserved by the workforce, competitive grant funding will prioritize those industry partnerships that serve high-poverty areas, rural areas, and areas facing significant economic disruptions due to labor market changes.
Representatives Lee (D-NV) and Bonamici (D-OR) have introduced a complementary, stand-alone bill that authorizes the SECTOR program; the Community-Based Workforce Development Act, H.R. 7748. NSC will track this bill for our network and keep you informed of upcoming advocacy opportunities related to it.
Overall, NSC strongly supports the House WIOA’s policy and investment to support industry or sector partnerships. States have been required to support local areas’ establishment and work with industry or sector partnerships since WIOA passed in 2014. The House bill would provide the first dedicated resources to these partnerships through WIOA, a critical component of supporting the expansion of these partnerships to all industries and in all areas.
Even at the currently proposed levels, however, the House bill’s authorization would fall far short of what is really necessary to establish, support, and grow sector strategies across our country. Last year, the White House recommended $5 billion for a discretionary grant program under WIOA to support the development of sectoral and industry partnerships. NSC looks forward to a higher funding level moving forward.
Codification of Programs to build capacity at Community and Technical Colleges to provide training, student support and meet industry needs
The House bill also the important step of codifying the Strengthening Community College Training Grant program, which is a successor of the TAA Community College and Career Training Grant program (TAACCCT). This program supports the creation and scaling of education and training programs at community colleges. Under TAACCCT community colleges developed nearly 2,600 programs of study that were aligned with local and regional business needs. Mandatory funding under the TAACCCT program saw its final distribution in 2017, and since Congress had funded similar activities via the annual appropriations process. Funding is authorized at $100 million for the program for FY 2023, which is $50 million more than its current appropriation.
The majority of training provided by the public workforce system is provided at Community and Technical colleges, and the inclusion of this program offers critical increased capacity for these institutions to serve needs of workers, students and businesses.
Increased authorization of funding for WIOA programs, with a prioritization of communities and workers who have been most impacted by the economic effects of the pandemic and structural racism
In addition to further support for industry sector partnerships, NSC and our network have long advocated for increased funding to the workforce system. The House reauthorization authorizes new funding thresholds to be considered by the appropriations committee. Workforce programs have been cut by over 40 percent since 2000 when factoring for inflation, and these cuts means our workforce system is able to help fewer people and businesses than in the past. The WIOA reauthorization bill attempts to remedy this by increasing the amount of money authorized, $78 billion for workforce programs over six years.
Increasing the levels up to which the programs could be funded is a critical step for better supporting the public workforce system, workers and businesses. Congress, however, has consistently failed to spend authorized levels in recent years – and did not appropriate the maximum funding for WIOA since its passage in 2014. Realizing the impact of increased authorization levels will require bipartisan support for funding programs at these levels in the annual appropriations process.
Center the voices, experiences, and expertise of people with lived experience in shaping policies and programs
The voices, experiences, and expertise of people with lived experience should shape policies and programs. The new WIOA reauthorization includes requirements that the composition of workforce boards better represent the communities for which they serve.
The legislation could go further to support the inclusion of individuals with experience in training programs and with the workforce system in policy or program leadership bodies and in designing processes for engaging with WIOA participants, focusing on improving access to programs and services.
Align programs and resources that support the whole person in training for a career or advancing in their existing one
The bill makes several important changes to existing terminology and definitions in order to be more inclusive of those our workforce system serves. The bill amends the definition of “individuals with barriers to employment” by adding individuals who have been historically underserved and marginalized because of race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It adds “underemployed” and “long-term unemployed” to the definition of dislocated workers, meaning that those workers will now be able to access services and resources more readily. Finally, the bill updates the term “offender,” to the more inclusive “justice-involved individual.”
The House bill also updates supportive service provisions; another important priority coming out of the listening sessions NSC and partner organizations hosted with workforce experts and advocates from across the country. Access to supportive services can increase accessibility and affordability for individuals seeking skills training and support persistence and completion. The bill provides dedicated and increased funding for supportive services, and adds them – by definition – as a necessary part of any career pathway. It also adds new services such as mental health care, substance use disorder treatment, and assistance with accessing the internet.
The House bill elevates the provision of supportive services to a required activity for local areas, a requirement that seems difficult to administer, even with significantly increased authorization levels for services.
Critical changes to the data collection and outcome measures to gauge progress toward closing disparities and advancing equity in program access and outcomes;
Consistent with NSC recommendations in our Roadmap to Racial Equity for Workforce Advocates, the House bill includes the requirement to disaggregate outcome data by race, ethnicity, sex and age – better equipping programs to drive towards equitable outcomes. The disaggregation of data components is critical, and Congress still needs to go further in measuring additional long-term outcomes like career advancement.
The House bill includes the codification of the Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grant program, which is a collaborative federal partnership between the Departments of Education and Labor to integrate workforce and education data. Funding for this program has previously been cut, level-funded, or absent from WIOA reauthorization proposals – despite data being essential to understanding who is succeeding in workforce programs. Codification of the program provides greater leverage for advocates of funding workforce and education data programs with Congressional decision makers on funding levels.
The bill provides authority to the Secretary of Labor to develop new performance measures to indicate the quality of jobs earned after participants receive training, such as paid time off and workplace safety, among others. This addition to WIOA text comes as there are projects at the Departments of Labor and Commerce to work with stakeholders to assess job quality. Several states are also working to define job quality in work supporting access to quality nondegree credentials. While the recognition of job quality in WIOA is critical, workforce experts are still identifying the best ways to measure and report on this, meaning a final WIOA reauthorization is likely to include different applications than the current draft.
Greater support for frontline workforce development professionals to strengthen cultural awareness and sensitivity and advance equity
Under the House WIOA draft, local boards and frontline workforce development professionals would be required to undertake professional development to ensure equitable service delivery and outcomes for individuals who have been historically underserved or marginalized. With adequate funding and necessary engagement with experts in trauma informed practices, racial equity and inclusion and cultural competence, this addition could offer workforce program managers and staff the ability to better meet BIPOC community needs.
Places we’d like to see the bill do more to support businesses and workers:
Overall, the House bill needs greater focus on serving and engaging businesses that hire participants in the workforce system. This shortfall is most evident in the exclusion of a clear vision for training and upskilling workers already in the workplace and in how the bill would support workers’ access to digital skills necessary to adapt to technological changes on the job.
Modernizing the capacity of the public workforce system to serve both job seekers and a new focus on opportunities for existing workers who need training to advance in their careers
Too often – largely because of limited funding – our public workforce professionals and local partners are forced to choose between serving workers who are looking for a job and those who need support upskilling in their current role. The House WIOA legislation includes a focus on connecting our public workforce system and apprenticeship systems. It does not, however, include changes at the scale necessary to empower small and mid-size companies to work with workforce experts to provide incumbent worker training or other types of on-the-job learning opportunities.
Embedded support for digital access and learning for all working people at home and on the job in ways that support equitable upskilling
The bill includes a definition of Digital Skills, aligned with the existing definition in the Museum and Library Services Act, consistent with NSC recommendations. It also tasks local areas and states with identifying strategies to better support digital skills and includes these skills in the description of occupation skills training.
To truly enable workers to access basic digital literacy, digital skills when transitioning industries and digital skill needs as technological needs change in their current role, Congress should include a targeted grant program that enables local areas to partner with businesses and training providers and ensure workers have access to digital equity at work that meets the needs of businesses.
After passage in the House, the bill moves to the Senate for consideration. In 2021, the Senate – and House – started bipartisan discussions on modernizing WIOA. House Democrats eventually advanced this bill, while conversations in the Senate largely stalled because of the Senate’s busy calendar and other leadership priorities. Given these same issues, it’s unlikely this WIOA reauthorization advances through the Senate in the coming months.
Both this House passage and the conversations happening now among workforce experts, however, are critical to shaping the eventual WIOA reauthorization.
National Skills Coalition is hosting a series of webinars. Join us for Skills Summit Sequels to hear about best practices in the states and models that can inform federal decision-making and to discuss ongoing opportunities in federal and state skills advocacy.
The NSC team will keep our network informed of future advocacy opportunities and other need-to-know policies from Congress and the administration.