3 Ways WIOA Will Change How Workforce Boards Operate

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Taking effect this month, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) represents the first major legislative reform to the public workforce system in more than 15 years.

It replaces the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998, which provided the foundation for an unprecedented workforce training and employment system that contributed to many success stories. However, in recent years it has failed to keep pace with changes in a dynamic labor market. WIA’s focus on short-term training and rapid reemployment no longer aligned with current economic conditions, which required longer term education initiatives and an emphasis on high-growth industries and occupations.

Enter WIOA, which has a number of key changes in the way workforce development boards (WDBs) provide services.

Align Workforce Development Stakeholders

WIOA requires that unified state workforce strategies, and local WDBs, which previously operated with relative independence, now align under and support these high-level, state-based plans.

Meeting core program goals will require greater levels of integration and collaboration across a variety of stakeholders, from state operators to local business leaders.

“Thinking across state and county lines better enables us to fill tomorrow’s in-demand job openings,” said Marlena Sessions, CEO of Seattle-King County’s Workforce Development Council. “WIOA strengthens our ability to work with the true economic engines of jobs in our local areas and to provide seamless customer service to both employers and jobseekers.”

Sessions’ WDB has already started this adjustment by using sector strategies in all of their work and taking a "let industry lead" approach toward skilling up jobseekers.

The emergence of collaboration tools and technologies is also helping facilitate alignment across the country. Online communities are connecting geographically disparate groups of job seekers, educators, economic developers, trainers and employers in ways that didn’t exist back when WIA was signed into law in 1998.

These portals, which users can access from mobile and desktop devices, provide real-time updates on job openings, training opportunities, and education availability for job seekers. Furthermore, they enable employers to make rapid hiring decisions based on their current talent needs.

Focus on Tomorrow’s Economic Needs

While WDBs must continue to focus on helping people find jobs and businesses fill positions today, WIOA asks that they keep an eye on what local businesses are going to need in the future. By thinking and operating proactively, WDBs can ensure local training and educational programs are designed to support mid- and long-term workforce gaps, including in 2020 and beyond.

“Regional employment needs change very quickly, so you need to be responsive. My team is continually reassessing where we want to be in three, five or 10 years,” said George Hempe, executive director and CEO at the Greater New Bedford Workforce Investment Board. “When stakeholders buy into these longer-term plans at the outset, we’re able to build sustainable placement programs that will provide our local business with the exact skills they’ll need down the road.”

Hempe recommends a four-step process to ensure everyone—from industry to education to employers—can come to a consensus on long-term solutions:

1. Assess your current situation. What do your workforce and education systems look like today? By getting agreement on the state of the workforce as it stands today, you’ll be better equipped to measure progress going forward.

2. Determine what’s working and what’s not. What has the WDB been doing well, and how can you expand upon that work? What hasn’t succeeded quite as well, and how much should you reduce that focus. This stage is about identifying the problems—not about placing blame.

3. Imagine best case scenarios. What would it look like if everything came together in an ideal fashion? That’s the vision from which you should be working backward. What will it take to get there?

4. Identify resources. What do you have now, and what will it take to reach the ideal scenario envisioned in the previous step?

At the end of this process, WDBs, along with their partners in industry, economic development and education, will have a better understanding of what success should look like in the long term. This focus on the future will enable WDBs to continually adjust to shifting economies in order to fill skill gaps with well-trained talent.

Deliver ROI to High-Growth Sectors

A critical component of closing skill gaps is understanding the needs of high-growth local business sectors.

“We used to start with the unemployed job seeker first, which wasn’t a bad approach, but starting with the talent gaps of industry is a more strategic approach,” as Sessions recalls. “By working backwards based on needs, we’re more focused on outcomes, and that momentum will continue to build under WIOA.”

Real-time online data tracked alongside traditional market information now provides WDBs with more accurate context, enabling them to align more closely with business hiring needs.

Hempe echoes that sentiment, stating the need for “tenacious collaboration” with local industry.

“Advances in data collection and analysis have delivered unprecedented insight into the talent needs within a given community, but that work needs to be supplemented with close integration with local business leaders,” he continues.

To that end, many WDBs use online real-time data tracking to monitor local market shifts.

Both Hempe and Sessions agreed that WDBs need to remember that at the end of the day for local businesses, even those who want to support their community workforce, ROI is king.

By engaging with these business leaders personally, and then integrating that feedback with data collection and analysis, WDBs can create continuous feedback loops to understand and act on changes in demand related to skills, employers, training, education, locations, occupations and industries—and in doing so, provide the best value to the local economy.

Investing in America’s Future

Advances in technology, data collection and analysis have provided WDBs with unprecedented abilities to gather and test the information they receive on hiring trends from state and local sources.

The result is that WIOA will help job seekers gain access to training, employment and support services so they can thrive in the labor market, while employers gain access to the skilled talent they need to grow their businesses and ultimately, their regional economies.

(Photo by ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Bruce Stephens is the Director of Real-time Labor Intelligence for Monster Government Solutions.

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