Congress Revitalizes Job Training and Workforce Development Programs with the Passage of WIOA

By Kisha Bird and Marcie Foster

Last evening, the House passed the Senate-approved Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in a near-unanimous vote of 415-6. With this action, the bill will now move to President Obama who is expected to sign the bill into law.

WIOA reauthorizes the nation’s workforce development and adult education programs and would replace the current Workforce Investment Act, which was enacted in 1998. At a time of sustained unemployment in many communities, these programs are designed to help young people and adult workers prepare for work or further education, find jobs, and build the skills employers need.

Workforce development and adult education are key strategies that help to lift people out of poverty. We applaud Congress for taking this important first step to create a workforce development system that better enables states and communities to meet the needs of low-income workers by improving connections to employment and training opportunities that will lead to economic prosperity for themselves and their families. CLASP has long-advocated for workforce development policies that are designed to meet the unique needs of America’s most vulnerable workers and prevent low-income adults and disadvantaged youth from falling further behind and being  locked out of the opportunity to earn credentials, enter, and advance in the workplace. We are delighted to see many of these ideas in the legislation.

WIOA improves current workforce and adult education programs in many ways and creates the conditions for wider adoption of career pathways and other strategies, such as transitional jobs, that hold promise for raising the skills and improving economic prospects for low-income and low-skilled adults and youth. It also includes several significant provisions that will increase the focus on comprehensive programming for out-of-school youth and those who face the greatest challenges to education and employment.  

At the national level, a key next step will be to address the capacity of the workforce development system, including its ability to achieve the full promise of the WIOA reforms. Congress should strengthen its commitment to the nation’s workers by providing adequate resources to ensure that improved services reach those who need them. Funding for workforce and adult education programs has declined by 10 percent or more since 2010, even though unemployment levels and the need for services in many communities remain unacceptably high.  Youth and people of color continue to face steep obstacles to entering the workforce and having full-time employment with family-sustaining wages. Additionally, adult education programs are serving only 5 percent of those with low literacy levels after years of decreases in both funding and enrollment.

The proposed bill, to its credit, authorizes modest increases in funding for these programs between 2015 and 2020. While the new provisions and these modest increases will allow important progress at the state and local level, without further expansion of capacity, states and local communities will fall short of the full promise of the reforms to ensure that services are accessible and available to individuals who have low education and skill levels and who face challenges in the labor market.

At the state and local level, the next step is to seize the momentum of the anticipated enactment to realize the opportunities offered by this important legislation.  CLASP will release a detailed analysis of WIOA’s implications for low-income youth and adults and anticipates working closely with leaders and advocates in states and local communities over the coming months to support the progress available through its enactment for low-income youth and adults. If you have questions about the statute or its implementation or a specific technical assistance suggestion or request, please contact;