DOL Proposes Rules Addressing the Workforce Skills Gap

By Roy Maurer Apr 24, 2015
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Proposed regulations implementing the sweeping Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), were announced April 16, 2015, by the departments of Education and Labor.

The law, signed by President Barack Obama on July 22, 2014, transforms the public workforce system by improving the links between diverse talent and the nation’s employers. The law streamlines the coordination of employment and training services, strengthens collaboration with state and local partners, and provides Americans with increased access to work-based learning, including on-the-job training and registered apprenticeships.

The WIOA updated the 1998 Workforce Investment Act, reauthorizing 33 job training programs overseen by the Department of Labor (DOL). The act also requires state workforce development agencies to create a unified job training plan based on local needs, adopts a standard performance metric for assessing program results, modernizes the federal workforce development system’s expansive network of one-stop centers, improves relationships with employers through sector partnerships and improves access to education and workforce services for individuals determined to have significant barriers to employment, including veterans, individuals with disabilities, disconnected youth, and other vulnerable populations.

“We are embarking on a fundamental transformation in the way we prepare people for the careers of today and tomorrow,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “More than ever before, we’re taking a job-driven approach and making sure training programs connect businesses that want to grow with workers who want to punch their ticket to the middle class.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the law “will provide the opportunities for workers and learners to obtain the foundation skills necessary for 21st century jobs and foster a modern workforce that can compete in a global economy.”

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) supported the legislation, which was “structured to focus more on the employment needs of employers and to develop strategies for meeting those needs,” said Kelly Hastings, senior government relations advisor at SHRM.

SHRM approved of the provisions promoting more engagement and industry-sector strategies between employers and local workforce boards, retaining employer majority membership on both state and local workforce boards to reinforce a demand-driven system and offering greater flexibility for the delivery of training services available to employers.

WIOA Advances ‘Critical Changes’

The law retains much of the structure of the previous workforce system, but “with critical changes to advance greater coordination and alignment,” according to the DOL.

Most provisions take effect on July 1, 2015, while the deadline for states’ strategic plans and a performance accountability system are scheduled for July 1, 2016.

Of the five proposed rules, the DOL plans to implement changes to the adult, dislocated worker and youth formula programs; the state and local workforce development boards; the designation of regions and local areas; the one-stop system; and national programs, including Job Corps, YouthBuild, and migrant and seasonal farmworker programs. The DOL’s proposed rule also would implement changes related to employment services and workforce and labor market information systems and requires the department to establish a Workforce Information Advisory Council.

Major provisions in the proposed regulations include:

*Having each state prepare a single unified plan that identifies a four-year strategy for achieving the strategic vision and goals for preparing an educated and skilled workforce and for meeting the skilled workforce needs of employers.

*Streamlining the state and local workforce development boards, the governing bodies that establish workforce investment priorities. WIOA reduces the size of the boards and assigns them additional responsibilities to assist in the achievement of state and local goals.

*Establishing a common performance accountability system applied across the core programs. The law aims to ensure that federal investments in employment, education and training programs are evidence-based, data-driven and transparent. Programs will be measured by six primary performance indicators: workers’ entry into unsubsidized employment, median earnings, attainment of post-secondary credentials, measurable skills gains, and the programs’ effectiveness in serving employers.

*Promoting the alignment of workforce development programs with regional economic development strategies to meet the needs of local and regional employers. “WIOA provides the opportunity for HR professionals to partner with state and local workforce investment boards, which oversee much of the strategic direction and prioritizing of federal employment and training dollars in the local community,” Hastings said.

*Enhancing the services of the 2,500 one-stop centers. The law will help jobseekers and employers acquire the services they need in centers and online, clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the one-stop partner programs, adds the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program as a required one-stop partner unless a state’s governor objects and requires competitive selection of one-stop operators. “These one-stop centers are designed to assist HR professionals by helping employers of all sizes meet their talent pipeline needs,” said Hastings. “Local one-stop centers, found in every region across the country, can post job openings, screen applicants onsite, and work with employers to meet their education and training needs.”

*Promoting apprenticeships, an employment model that allows workers to earn a paycheck while they learn new skills and acquire credentials. “Apprenticeship programs are automatically eligible to be included as eligible training providers,” Hastings said.

Companies like IBM and CVS are committing to start or expand apprenticeships in industries such as information technology and health care. But more employers need to take up this challenge, according to Robert Hohman, CEO and co-founder of job search engine and review site Glassdoor. “Approximately 9,500 employers, only a handful of the millions of companies across the U.S., are offering trainee and apprenticeship positions,” Hohman remarked. “Employers looking to propel their businesses forward and retain talented workers should invest in on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs. At Glassdoor, we created a tool to help Americans find jobs that [offer these opportunities] to advance their careers and earning potential,” he said.

*Improving services to individuals with disabilities by stressing physical and programmatic accessibility, including the use of accessible technology to increase individuals with disabilities’ access to workforce services. “The law makes several significant changes to help individuals with disabilities access services and improve employment outcomes,” said Hastings. Historically, coordination between vocational rehabilitation agencies and employers has been challenging and inconsistent, she said. The law also strengthens services for youth with disabilities transitioning from school to employment or postsecondary education by guaranteeing access to pre-employment transition services, such as work-based learning experiences, job exploration and work readiness training, Hastings explained.

*Emphasizing services to disconnected youth to prepare them for successful employment by requiring that a minimum of 75 percent of youth formula program funds be used to help out-of-school youth, in contrast to the 30 percent required previously. “With high youth unemployment and many youth without high school diplomas or postsecondary credentials, the WIOA maintains and expands elements that support youth programming and raises the age limit for services for out-of-school youth to age 24,” Hastings said. The law increases out-of-school youth access to pre-apprenticeship opportunities that result in registered apprenticeships. It adds a requirement that at least 20 percent of formula funds at the local level be used on work-based training activities such as summer jobs, on-the-job training, and apprenticeships.

*Supporting veteran-related services, such as targeting employment services to dislocated members of the Armed Forces.

*Increasing funding to assist ex-offenders’ entry back into the workforce. “Ex-offenders attempting to re-enter the workforce will be eligible for job training, including training administered through pay-for-performance contracts and transitional jobs which often assist individuals with poor work histories,” Hastings said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.Follow him @SHRMRoy

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