The Stars are Aligned: Federal and Local Workforce Policies Converge

2015 Summer Newsletter, Policy Updates

By Chris Neale, Director of the New York City Workforce Investment Board

On July 1, 2015, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) – an important federal law that provides adult education, training, and employment services throughout the country – officially took effect.  WIOA replaces the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 and maintains many of the same elements of that law. At the same time, WIOA builds upon WIA by offering new options and increased flexibility for skill training and paid work experience, champions the delivery of services within career pathways, and mandates coordination across programs.

WIOA takes effect just as New York City is beginning to implement its own vision to transform workforce development. In November 2014, the City released the Career Pathways: One City, Working Together report detailing this vision and a plan for achieving it. The plan embraces career pathways as a framework for New York City’s entire system of adult education, training, and employment services. The plan also endorses industry partnerships, such as NYACH, as a primary vehicle to define and deliver high-value services for jobseekers, workers and businesses. As detailed below, there is a significant degree of alignment between the new federal law and New York City’s vision.

Invest in building the skills of jobseekers: WIOA offers new options for training (such as incumbent worker training) and increased flexibility for existing options (such as making it easier to provide paid work experience to adults and to support apprenticeships). The City has recognized that to reduce income inequality, it must invest in the skills of its workers, particularly those individuals with low educational achievement, low skills, or limited English proficiency.  The goal is to enable New Yorkers to get good jobs with family-supporting wages.   As a result, the City plans by 2020 to connect 30,000 people each year to training.

Ensure training provides the skills that employers seek: New York City plans to invest substantially in skills training, and is committed to ensuring that all training is firmly rooted in employer demand. To that end, the City is creating or expanding a total of six industry partnerships, including NYACH: intermediaries between employers, employer associations, government, labor unions, training providers, philanthropy, and community-based organizations that partner to develop a superior talent pool inclusive of all New Yorkers. One key function of these industry partnerships is to ensure training is informed by employer demand by building real-time feedback loops between industry and training providers. Similarly, WIOA encourages the creation of “sector or industry partnerships” as effective practices for engaging employers.

Offer career pathways serving jobseekers and workers at all skill levels: WIOA requires local areas to implement career pathways, but offers significant flexibility in determining what they look like. New York City defines a career pathway as a coordinated system that connects education, training, credential attainment, and wraparound services to support workers as they advance to higher levels of employment. In addition, career pathways offer routes to skilled professions and economic advancement, and support individuals along the way. Each step allows participants to gain a marketable skillset and/or credential.

Increase collaboration between public agencies:  New York City has recognized the need for greater alignment across City agencies to ensure more consistency in the approach to customers – both workers and businesses – and in defining and measuring performance.  WIOA mandates greater coordination and alignment across an array of education, training, and employment services for adults and youth.  The law is explicit that adult education and literacy activities should be “offered concurrently with and in the same context as workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster.”   This “integrated” approach to adult education and English language acquisition could be conducive to a program jointly funded by two agencies receiving WIOA funding.  One particularly promising area for collaboration is bridge programs.  Bridge programs serve low literacy individuals who are not yet ready for college, training, or career-track jobs, provide contextualized literacy programs (with elements such as co-teaching and a sector focus), and track outcomes in both educational gains and employment, entry into skills training, or entry into college.  These programs fill the gap between the initial skill level of an individual and the requirements of an education or training program or a job.

In summary, there is an unprecedented degree of alignment between federal policy and the City’s vision of workforce development.  Both emphasize the need to build the skills of jobseekers, to implement sector-based training strategies responsive to the needs of employers, and to coordinate services across agencies.  As New York City moves to implement career pathways, WIOA should provide a strong boost to our efforts to create one city, working together.

Chris Neale is the Director of the Workforce Investment Board in the NYC Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development.  He can be reached at cneale@wkdev.nyc.gov.