What you need to know: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

2015 Winter Newsletter, Policy Updates

By Melinda Mack, Executive Director, New York Association of Training & Employment Professionals      

Back in July, with little fanfare outside of the workforce community, the President signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA, pronounced Wee-oh-ah) which will replace the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) on July 1, 2015.  This was no small feat for the field.   After more than a decade of advocacy and awaiting reauthorization, Congress, after months of rare, bi-partisan compromise, drafted and passed WIOA.

WIOA, at first glance, appears to be the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) 2.0.  Very little within WIOA is unallowable under the current law.  In fact the overarching goal is still the same – get more people into jobs and back on to the tax rolls, and ensure employers remain competitive.  However, with a closer read, it is clear that the emphasis is very different, and informed by current best practice.   In our view, WIOA aims to create flexible, employer-driven local systems that emphasize demand-driven education and training, navigable career pathways, and deep connections to the economic development of communities.

So, what are the cliff notes for how this is interpreted in the law?

  • Program Consolidation – This is an example of the compromise between Democrats and Republicans. The consolidation was limited to 15 programs (vs. 35 in the original House Bill) many of which have been unfunded for many years.
  • Performance: The goal is to be able to compare performance across all WIOA titles, meaning the metrics are the same and include a bigger focus on retention, and new measures for “skills gains” and employer engagement.
  • Training: The law emphasizes investment in job training including career pathways, sector-focused and employer-based (such as on-the-job, customized and incumbent worker training).
  • Literacy: The intent is to deepen connection between Title I and Title II, through nimble career pathways and vocationally focused literacy (most common example is the I-Best model out of Washington State), including serving low-basic skilled individuals.
  • Youth: The biggest changes are related to how we serve youth, and recognize the growing national concern for the number of young people out of work and out of school. WIOA funds will now need to be spent primarily on these youth: 75 % on Out of School Youth (currently 30% under WIA) and 25% on In-School Youth.   To increase flexibility, free & reduced lunch can now be used to prove income status.
  • Individuals with Disabilities: Throughout WIOA, there is a concerted effort to better serve individuals with disabilities, including ensuring physical and programmatic access and transitioning youth from K-12 to postsecondary education and/or work.
  • Funding: The law includes authorizing language for funding – back to FY’10 levels by 2017, signaling that a sizeable investment is needed to be effective.
  • Workforce Boards: The local systems will continue to be led by local Workforce Investment Boards, which will remain business-led and business majority, with fewer mandated partners, and a push for local control.
  • America’s Job Centers:  The system across the country will be re-branded as “America’s Job Centers” and instead of providing a standard sequence of services to all customers, customers will access career services that are most appropriate for them.

The future for workforce looks bright, but is not without challenges. Our biggest challenge ahead is ensuring WIOA receives appropriate funding to enable local areas to invest in important elements like training.   Additionally, to truly be an integrated system, this will mean big changes relating to the coordination of the federal and state departments of labor and education’s systems.   This means our work as advocates didn’t end with WIOA being signed into law. The field will need to continue to stay engaged to ensure implementation over the next two years is as smooth as possible.

Melinda Mack is the Executive Director of the New York Association of Training & Employment Professionals.  She can be reached at mmack@nyatep.org.