WIOA Performance Targets: Incentives to Improve Workforce Services for Individuals with Barriers to Employment

This memo discusses performance policies in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that can encourage services for those most in need.

Under WIOA, performance management provisions empower states and local areas to serve more individuals with barriers to employment. This includes an “objective statistical adjustment model” that adjusts state and local performance targets based (in part) on the level of WIOA services provided to individuals with the highest needs. It also includes a new interim progress measure, “Measurable Skills Gain,” that allows states and local areas to get credit for serving those who may take more than one year to meet other milestones, such as employment or credential attainment.

More recently, the federal government has announced policies that complement these provisions. During the next two years of WIOA, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education (DOL and ED) will not apply sanctions to States that do not meet their negotiated levels of performance. States and local areas should act now to serve more individuals with barriers to employment, so that future revisions to the statistical adjustment model will better reflect the realities of serving those with the greatest needs. The participants that states serve and the results they achieve over the next two years can help build a realistic baseline into the adjustment model, enabling DOL and ED to set future performance targets that encourage states to provide robust services to greater numbers of individuals with significant barriers to employment.

Recent federal guidance further dismantles the perception that states and local areas will be punished with workforce development performance targets that disincentivize serving those with the greater barriers. Pointing out that “WIOA emphasizes serving those individuals with barriers to employment and individuals more at risk of not connecting to the labor market,” DOL aims to “accommodate States currently serving a significant number of individuals to barriers to employment who need higher levels of service to achieve a positive outcome” and to encourage new efforts to “increase access to services for special populations that may face significant barriers to employment” by using data to negotiate more reasonable performance levels.

The Department has also adopted an expanded, more helpful definition of “continuous improvement.” Under new guidance, continuous improvement goes beyond absolute increases in results from year to year; it also encompasses changes in service strategy and delivery or changes in the types of customers served. This supportive interpretation of continuous improvement should be used in federal-state and state-local negotiations over the next several years to set performance targets that accommodate greater services to more individuals with barriers to employment.