Congress Urges Summer Action on WIOA, Skills Development

Congress Urges Summer Action on WIOA, Skills Development 

June was a busy month for workforce advocates around the country, as we watched leaders in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) take up the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), a cornerstone legislation that since 2014, has funded the nation’s workforce development system. This comes months after the House passed A Stronger Workforce for America Act (ASWAA), which amends and reauthorizes WIOA with much-needed provisions that modernize the workforce system. Per Scholas saw several changes in the bill reflecting our tireless advocacy over the last few years. 

We look to Congress to take the next critical steps in authorizing a full WIOA legislation, one that after 10 years of powering America’s workforce system, can adequately resource the most underfunded services for workers and their families, and prioritize workforce programs that general long-term economic improvements for the people that need it most. 

WIOA Turns 10. Here’s What We’ve Learned:

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 marked a turning point for U.S. workforce, when Congress came together to establish the nation’s most comprehensive reform to federal workforce development programs. At an appropriation of nearly $5 billion every year, WIOA authorizes funding for states to implement workforce training programs and services. The law is designed to better help workers access opportunities for employment, education and training, and support services, and funds the nation’s web of 2,300 American Job Centers. 

Recent trends and data help us understand just how important it is to make not only urgent, but also effective, investments into the bill and modernize WIOA to serve U.S. workers, employers and training and education providers. The U.S. invests less than any other industrialized country (just 0.1% of GDP) on workforce development, and spends an estimated 30% less on workforce development today than it did in 2001, nearly a $2.5 billion reduction in the past 20 years. 

Even less of this funding goes towards job training (provided to workers through vouchers called Individual Training Accounts). Despite the millions of Americans served by the nation’s premier workforce development program, about 200,000 workers per year receive training using $0.5B in funds, and typically these vouchers have a maximum cap between $1,000-$8,000 per participant, creating issues around consumer choice and access to quality training. Overall, WIOA eligible training programs prepare participants for jobs that pay below the US median income and also below median income for individuals without college degrees. Workers and training providers already face a number of barriers when navigating such programs, made available on the Eligible Training Provider List (ETPL) that too often fails to adequately measure the quality of its education and training programs—including long-term earnings and other outcomes data. 

In contrast, sectoral employment programs with strong evaluations are proven to create quality career pathways alongside the onramps created by WIOA, yet currently the law dedicates no federal funding for sector partnerships; it’s a responsibility left at states’ discretion. By pulling together employers, workers, workforce boards, labor organizations and training programs that lead to in-demand industry credentials, like the Per Scholas model, the system can better address worker and labor needs.

Per Scholas provides no-cost, full-time training that opens a door for Americans who are committed to launching a career in technology to gain the skills and networks they need to succeed. For 28 years, Per Scholas has consistently helped adults increase their incomes 3x, and returns $8 in economic benefits for every $1 spent on training. With our proven model, Per Scholas has been able to increase our scale of 2000 adult learners per year in 2020 by 150%—that means in 2024 we’ll reach more than 5,000 immersive learners plus 2,000 alumni committing to upskilling. We’ve partnered with WIOA agencies in just under half of our 23+ campuses, to deliver high-quality training programs to communities historically left out of high-growth industries like technology.

Spurring the growth, scale and impact of our training relies on a federal government that can use this opportunity to be strategic with investments in the workforce system. Per Scholas applauds the House and Senate for its bipartisanship to drive WIOA forward with clear priorities, which will reduce barriers in advancing demand-driven training models like ours. 

House and Senate WIOA Priorities Take Shape:

In December 2023 the House Education & Workforce Committee passed ASWAA, with many of our key priorities included in the bill text. The Senate takes a different approach in many areas, and while still in it’s draft stages, Per Scholas highlights a few elements from the framework that offer a positive outlook:

    • Prioritizes evidence-based programming. For 2x evaluated models like Per Scholas, we’re excited to see WIOA provide a clear definition for “evidence-based” and encourage states to build emphasis around evidence-based activities in their State Plans. This creates better opportunities to promote and share information on high-impact programs to the public. 
    • Increases funding for skills development for adult workers. While the House specified WIOA spending (50%) on skills development for adult participants, the Senate framework drops this requirement. Instead, it would allocate more than $100 million in annual H1-B funding to increase funding levels for Individual Training Accounts (ITAs), or training vouchers. This  boost to funding levels would support higher-cost, higher-impact programs through WIOA.
    • Places a high bar on the Eligible Training Provider List (ETPL). The Senate takes requirements for the ETPL a step further than the House. For standard eligibility, providers will need to meet rigorous criteria, including having programs that result in individuals being work-ready, equipped with strong industry-specific skills and postsecondary credentials at the end of training, and lead to roles that fall in an in-demand industry or occupation with high wages. This creates measured accountability around which programs on the ETPL are proven to lead to lifelong, positive impact on participants. 
    • Emphasizes employer-sponsored training.  Similar to the House’ Critical Industry Skills Fund, the Senate framework better encourages state-level investments into industry or sector partnerships, tapping into state reserves (10% Title I) for employer-based training. The emphasis on work-based learning for the adult, dislocated workers and youth populations promises new onramps to employment in nontraditional sectors, through models like Per Scholas’ Registered Cybersecurity Apprenticeship
    • Simplifies eligibility determination for training.  The Senate bill follows the House bill’s lead in streamlining enrollment for training participants by allowing them to participate in an eligible training program while their eligibility determination is completed. This addresses a long-standing challenge for individuals burdened with additional intake, and providers like Per Scholas, who often take on the cost to train  individuals when WIOA eligibility isn’t yet completed before training starts.
    • Integrates alignment between education and training providers. Under Title II WIOA, the Senate framework creates new measures related to participant completion rates in employer-connected learning and in eligible education programs. This creates opportunities for partnerships between adult education programs (primarily through community colleges) and occupational training programs through organizations like Per Scholas, where employer connections are more robust. 
  • Authorizes the Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI) and makes robust investments into the workforce data ecosystem. Like the House, the Senate includes provisions to leverage a national source of data, facilitating cross-state wage data and other linkages, and overall, improving data quality on participant earnings and employment. This is a major victory for Per Scholas and other workforce advocates, and will be critical to data transparency around programs under WIOA. 

What WIOA Still Needs:

A final bill must transform WIOA from a patchwork system to one that is better funded to deliver high-quality skills training that supports long-term economic mobility for working families, helps employers hire diverse talent and make investments into their workers, and advances equitable pathways to quality careers.  

Workforce development and opportunities for Per Scholas alumni empower them to thrive with new in-demand skills and experience. It means lifelong impact for workers like Ryan Chapman,  a Per Scholas Greater Boston graduate who, with only a high school diploma and some hardware repair experience, decided to pursue a career in cybersecurity with Per Scholas. In just three months, he earned his CompTIA CySA+ certification. After graduation from Per Scholas, Ryan landed a role with a local employer as a Networking Technician making $61K/year, transforming his life. 

“When I got into Per Scholas I remember feeling like my dreams were actually starting to unfold. I remember feeling blessed. My feelings were reaffirmed on the first day I showed up to smiling faces, new friends, and excitement,” said Ryan. 

There are still critical resource needs, such as funding for effective workforce organizations to scale their efforts and develop new models that address emerging labor market needs— accomplished through a bill introduced by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), the Better Jobs through Evidence and Innovation Act, which establishes the Workforce Development Innovation Fund. Championed by Per Scholas, critical legislation like this would make funding available to evidence-based employment and training programs that generate demonstrated, long-term economic improvements for jobseekers and employers, and produce high-quality evaluations of their impact. 

“The passage of a new Workforce Development Innovation Fund would mean effective workforce training providers across the nation, like us, can keep investing in America’s most valuable asset – our people,” said Plinio Ayala, President and CEO, Per Scholas. “Prioritizing improvements based on evidence would scale programs with the best track record of helping workers and their families achieve self-sufficiency. A resource like this will allow us to reach more people, and bring economic prosperity to more communities.”

Other investments into education and training programs loom on the horizon, with Short-term Pell Grants still a major topic for many workforce advocates. Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that 72 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education and training in 2031, and most of those jobs are expected to require a 4-year degree. With the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act (H.R. 6585) at a standstill, Congress needs to be all-in on supporting career pathways and effective workforce development programs that are proven to advance economic mobility for working adults. We recommend lawmakers reinforce our shared recommendations via the America Forward Coalition, a network of more than 100 social innovation organizations that champion equitable, innovative, and effective solutions in workforce and education. 

As Congress charges ahead in summer 2024, Per Scholas will continue to work alongside policymakers to build on the latest WIOA framework, strengthen key reforms, and advocate for an equitable legislation that promotes our priorities. 

For more Per Scholas Perspectives, visit our website or contact Salwa Majeed, Senior Manager, Government Affairs at [email protected].

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