Federal Policy Should Improve Workforce Education and Training
A strong workforce and education system is critical for economic recovery. Low-skill, low-income individuals must gain the skills necessary to secure employment in industries and occupations anticipated to grow as the economy emerges from recession. And American businesses need access to skilled workers to compete in the global economy. Even before the recession, postsecondary education had increasingly become the gateway to family sustaining employment. Many good paying jobs that required only a high school education are unlikely to return as we emerge from recession. Although record numbers of people are looking for work, employers report having trouble finding people with the right skills to fill current job openings.
This is due in part to insufficient focus on skill development in workforce development programs; weak connections between the workforce development, adult education, and postsecondary education systems; and the failure to ensure more students succeed in the postsecondary education system.
As part of its Federal Policy Recommendations for 2010, CLASP recommends that the Obama Administration and Congress foster federal policies that will drive systemic change in the nation's workforce education and training systems to better serve the needs of low-income workers and their families.
Enact and fully fund the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA). This measure passed the U.S. House in fall 2009 and is pending in the Senate. SAFRA would index the Pell Grant to inflation, and further simplify financial aid access. It also would increase the federal commitment to ensure students complete a degree or credential, especially students from groups underrepresented in higher education and those attending community colleges. Congress should focus SAFRA's competitive grant programs on prioritizing the needs of underserved communities, dedicating funds to statewide innovation community colleges and facilitating the alignment of postsecondary education with the adult education and workforce systems.
Reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and increase funding for programs supported under the Act. WIA reauthorization presents an important opportunity to refocus the workforce investment system authorized under Title I on providing high quality education, training and related services and better connecting workforce investment services with adult education, career and technical education, postsecondary and other education and training and work supports. Such services can create multiple pathways to postsecondary and career success for low-income adults, dislocated workers and disadvantaged youth. WIA reauthorization also should revise the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act of 1998 (WIA Title II) to focus on increasing the rate at which all students attain career and postsecondary success. Federal funding for Title II should be devoted solely to this purpose. Congress should also substantially improve WIA Title II by encouraging state innovation in the development of bridge programs and career pathways, requiring states to enroll more students in concurrent literacy and occupational training programs, and overhauling the system that measures students' literacy gains. In addition, Congress should enact and fund state policy leadership grants to support system alignment and developing a shared system of accountability for Title I and Title II that supports workforce and adult education policy goals.
Promote targeted strategies to create employment opportunities for low-skill, low-income workers in areas of high unemployment. Among other strategies, Congress should expand Transitional Jobs programs that combine work and learning and help individuals address barriers to employment and get connected to jobs. Congress also should authorize and fund initiatives to enhance the capacity of educational institutions and providers; to foster community partnerships; and to promote connections between education and training programs and necessary income and work supports that enable low-income youth and adults to succeed in education, training, and work.