After years of wrangling and near misses, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate announced today that they have agreement on a bill repealing and replacing the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. Coming at a time of growing frustration with a weak labor market and a sluggish economy the announcement shines a light on an area of rare bipartisan consensus – the need for more and better ways to connect people to good jobs.
While the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) maintains both the spirit and structure of the Workforce Investment Act, it also makes some important changes. Chief among these are the elimination of fifteen programs authorized under the act, the downsizing of workforce investment boards, the establishment of common performance metrics across individual programs, and better integration of services to individuals with disabilities. WIOA also places more emphasis than its predecessor on the development of career pathway approaches and sector strategies, both of which aim to build stronger connections between job training programs and the needs of local employers.
The Workforce Investment Act represents the country largest federal investment in employment and training programs and reaches a wide spectrum of populations, including out-of-school youth, low-skilled adults, dislocated workers, and individuals with disabilities. In FY 2012, the program distributed over $3 billion to states to support local and regional workforce development activities. The new bill splits the difference between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013 with bipartisan support, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee with a bipartisan vote of 18-3 in July of 2013.
"It’s encouraging to see Congress finally come together around the need to update our workforce development system to meet the needs of today’s jobseekers and employers,” says Mary Alice McCarthy, Senior Policy Analyst at the New America Foundation. ”The bill definitely moves the system in the right direction – toward a stronger emphasis on career pathways, sector strategies and integrated service delivery. That said, there is a lot more work to be done aligning our workforce development system with other policies that help people get skills and credentials for work.Let's hope that by passing this bill, we're also not taking the workforce development system off the table in future policy discussions around the skills gap and building better transitions from school to work."