By Neil Bomberg
This article is the third in a series of four designed to educate NLC members about the Workforce Investment Act.
While NLC strongly believes that the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) must be modernized, there is no need to gut the entire system and replace it with something new. The nation's one stop system established through WIA has shown itself to be responsive to significant demands when it is adequately funded and supported, as was the case during the Great Recession, when the American Recovery Act (ARA) doubled the programs annual funding and made it possible for the workforce system to respond to the employment needs of tens of millions of Americans.
Given that caveat, NLC believes, first and foremost, that whatever legislation is drafted must have bipartisan support. Historically, Democrats and Republicans have worked with stakeholders to forge legislation that is responsive to the needs of businesses and workers, reflects the perspectives of the varied constituency groups that workforce programs serve, and draws upon the strengths of each level of government to ensure that the program is effective, efficient and successful.
Second, WIA reform legislation must streamline the state and local governance process to ensure that job training and employment services are delivered rapidly and effectively, and meet the needs of employers and workers by ensuring that workers are trained to meet the 21st century workplace. But this must not be done, as has been recommended by the House majority, by transforming the program into a state run system. Rather we must retain a local delivery system that is based on regional economies and local labor markets, and is led by county and city elected officials and local business leaders who are most familiar with their local economies and the ways in which they can be supported and improve.
Third, reform legislation must thoughtfully consolidate the plethora of programs that currently exist and are administered by different federal agencies so that program services are more effectively delivered to the vast array of populations who need job skills training and job placement assistance, but we must do this thoughtfully and not for the purpose of creating a single block grant that would enable future Congresses to reduce the overall funding of the programs.
Fourth, any legislative proposal must establish common performance measures that can be used across all Workforce development programs to ensure meaningful, client-centered outcomes.
Fifth, include a significant reinvestment in youth, dedicated to young people with low educational attainment and poor connections to the workplace, including support for secondary school completion strategies, a well-organized summer jobs programs, alternative education, occupational training, adult mentoring and comprehensive guidance and counseling services.
This is the message that NLC will be sharing with the Senate as it moves forward with its attempts to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act in a way that is responsive to the needs of a 21st century workplace.