WIOA Creates New Opportunities to Improve Economic and Career Success for Low-Income Youth and Adults

September 26, 2014

In July 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress—was signed into law by President Obama.  WIOA is the first update to the nation’s core workforce training programs  since the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) 16 years ago.  But a lot has changed since 1998—and our workforce system hasn’t kept up.  Low-skilled and low-income workers face more barriers than ever to securing an education and getting a good job.

The updated law reauthorizes the nation’s employment, training, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation programs created under WIA.  It improves connections to employment and training opportunities that lead to economic prosperity for workers and their families.  WIOA strengthens existing workforce development and adult education programs in four ways that can benefit adults and youth with barriers to economic success.

CLASP’s WIOA summary focuses on opportunities to improve services in select WIOA core programs: Title I, the primary source of federal workforce development funding to prepare low-income adults, youth, and dislocated workers for employment and to help them continue to build skills once they are employed; and Title II, the main source of federal adult education and literacy funding, including English language services.

The summary outlines how the law strengthens existing workforce development and adult education programs in four major ways that can benefit adults and youth with barriers to employment:

  1. Increases the focus on serving the most vulnerable workerslow-income adults and youth who have limited skills, lack work experience, and face other barriers to economic success;
  2. Expands education and training options to help participants access good jobs and advance in their careers;
  3. Helps disadvantaged and unemployed adults and youth earn while they learn through support services and effective employment-based activities; and
  4. Aligns planning and accountability policies across core programs to support more unified approaches to serving low-income, low-skilled individuals.

CLASP has long supported system-level reform through our Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success, providing technical assistance to cross-system state policy teams through the Shifting Gears initiative, the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, our Youth Policy work, and as convener of the Communities Collaborating to Reconnect Youth Network.

To bring the aforementioned opportunities to fruition, policymakers, advocates, and practitioners must seize the opportunities available through WIOA; the changes won’t happen automatically.  WIOA both establishes new activities and requirements and codifies federal guidance and regulations that already exist.  Taken together, these changes create an opportunity to leverage systemic change across the currently disconnected education and training systems.  WIOA better enables states and local communities to seed and propel cross-systems approaches to tackle unemployment, low literacy, and low educational attainment among disconnected youth and low-skilled, low-income adults and parents.

A great deal of work remains to implement WIOA.  Federal regulations must be written, new planning and accountability processes must be put in place, and new performance metrics (such as the skills gain measure) must be defined.  CLASP strongly encourages the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor and other federal agencies to ensure that guidance maximizes opportunities for system alignment and cross-system continuous improvement processes to better serve youth and adults with barriers to employment.

Finally, it is state and local decision makers and their private sector and community partners who will determine what the real impact of the law will be on economic success for low-income people.  CLASP is eager to partner with states and communities to help them leverage opportunities created by WIOA to better address the needs of individuals with barriers to employment.

Technical Assistance

CLASP staff* is available to provide technical assistance to states and communities implementing WIOA into their states and local communities.

* For questions related to adult education, contact:
Judy Mortrude, Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success.

For questions related to youth and young adults, contact:
Kisha Bird, Senior Policy Analyst, Youth Policy.

For questions related to performance and accountability, contact:
Evelyn Ganzglass, Senior Fellow, Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success; or
Anna Cielinski, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success.

For questions related to Title I: Adult, contact:
David Socolow, Director, Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success.

Resources from CLASP 

See CLASP’s WIOA summary, New Opportunities to Improve Economic and Career Success for Low-Income Youth and Adults, as well as our WIOA resource page, for additional resources for leaders and advocates in states and local communities implementing and expanding workforce systems, policies, and practices that are grounded in research and experience and improve the education and employability of low-income people, especially youth and adults who could most benefit from a more efficient system and tailored services.

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