Why the Workforce Investment Act Matters — Part II

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This is the second in a series on the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and NLC’s belief that Congress must reauthorize and modernize the Act to ensure that it meets the needs of today’s workers and employers. In this second blog we will explore how and why job training services are offered and what role the local workforce investment boards and city and county elected officials play in the development and implementation of these services.

Why the Workforce Investment Act Matters — Part II

By Neil Bomberg

Job training services provided by the federally-funded and locally-operated Workforce Investment Act (WIA) take many forms, so that the services provided can meet an individual worker’s or employer’s needs. Services can include classroom training, customized training, and on-the-job training, or some combination of all three.

Training funds typically are distributed through individual training accounts that provide vouchers to job seekers; those searching for work then use the vouchers to enroll in eligible training programs approved and made available by the local workforce investment boards to meet specific employer needs within their communities. However, these vouchers are only issued after local workforce investment boards and city and county elected officials work with businesses within their communities to identify what types of job openings that exist, the kinds of skills that are necessary to fill those positions, and the availability of appropriate training programs within their community. In other words, individuals cannot simply decide to opt for a certain type of training unless it can be shown that there are opportunities to work in the field for which training is offered. (In a forthcoming blog examples of how this is done will be provided.)

Each job training program is designed to help workers gain new skill sets or upgrade existing skill sets, while providing them with some support services such as child care and transportation assistance, so that they can complete their job training program and move into a permanent full-time position that improves each participants employability and earnings. Often, training is provided by local community colleges who have worked with local employers to identify which jobs are growing in the community; other times it may be offered by a company that has determined that it is going to expand operations and needs new, skilled employees to fill those jobs. Still other times training may be offered by a local public-public private partnership that has been created to bring job seekers into a specific sector such as health care, hospitality, retail, construction or manufacturing.

Most importantly, there is no single way to implement an effective local workforce development program. It must be responsive to the specific needs of employers and workers alike, and it must be based on the labor situation within a given community; something that local workforce boards make up of local business leaders and city and county elected officials are particularly skilled at doing.