Senate hearing focuses on improving WIOA

U.S. Capitol (Photo: Matthew Dembicki)

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing Wednesday about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

WIOA expired in 2020. Its reauthorization has bipartisan support and is “long overdue,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), ranking member of the committee.

There was agreement among the senators and witnesses that improvements to WIOA are needed, though.

Congress first passed WIOA in 2014, and in the 10 years since, the country has experienced “monumental changes,” such as Covid and big advancements in technology, noted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), committee chair, and more jobs require education beyond a high school diploma.

Call for increased funding

Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, served as a witness. He noted that both WIOA and Pell Grant funding are not keeping pace with the needs of employers, workers and communities.

Without postsecondary education and training, the 80 million working-age adults with a high school diploma or less are “doomed to be frozen out of the middle class,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan recommended increased funding for training programs.

“Only 175,831 individuals received training services under WIOA in program year 2022. This is a drop in the bucket for what is supposed to be the federal government’s premier training program,” he said.

He also wants to see increased funding for adult education programs.

Other witnesses echoed his call for more funding.

In Fiscal Year 2023, programs and activities for adults, dislocated workers and youth under WIOA’s formula grants to states and local workforce areas were funded at just $3.2 billion, noted David Bradley, senior director for workforce policy at Jobs for the Future.

“This level of funding is not adequate to meet all the promises in the WIOA system, nor is the system currently designed to meet today’s extensive career navigation, skills development, and worker transition needs as a stand-alone program,” Bradley said.

Taylor White, director of postsecondary pathways for youth at New America’s Center on Education and Labor, said a WIOA reauthorization should include increased federal investment in youth programming to connect more Americans ages 16 to 24 to education and the labor market.

Lisa Bly-Jones, CEO of the Chicago Jobs Council, recommended that any funding calculations include the cost of wraparound services.

“For workers with the greatest economic need, the difference between entering training and actually being able to complete it is usually unexpected costs,” Bly-Jones said. Those costs include childcare, transportation, mental health supports or challenges with career navigation.

Funding flexibility

Witnesses also noted the need for more flexibility for states and regions so they can best serve the needs of their employers and workforce.

“Emphasizing the importance of local and state control over funding for workforce development programs is crucial to enhancing strategic effectiveness and ensuring successful outcomes,” said Matthew Dickerson, business development and strategy officer of Mid South Extrusion.

A targeted and localized investment approach, can “cultivate a more robust, resilient workforce that can uphold our nation’s economic growth and competitiveness with confidence and optimism,” Dickerson added.

Better data, better information sharing

There’s a need for better data systems – and better use of data – too, witnesses said.

White recommended that Congress invest in state and federal data infrastructure. It would help with capturing longitudinal data that would help generate valuable evidence about which programs yield the greatest long-term benefits, she said.

Bly-Jones recommended increased research, data sharing and transparency across state agencies involved in education and workforce training to identify and address equity gaps in public investments.

And Sullivan encouraged the required use of earnings and other outcomes data in order to be more selective about which providers and programs are eligible to provide WIOA training services.

Community colleges are best suited to solve the nation’s workforce challenges, but they have been an under-utilized resource by the WIOA training enterprise. Strong, integrated partnerships between workforce boards and their local community colleges should be encouraged, but the selection of eligible training providers should not be an “exercise in red tape and bureaucracy,” he said.

And, Sullivan said, workers should be armed with information about which postsecondary education and training options work best for them and expect that the system will provide options that work for them.

“There should not be a wrong door to enter within the WIOA system,” he said.

Workforce Pell

Both Sullivan and Bly-Jones included in their testimonies an appeal to the committee to expand Pell to include short-term workforce programs.

“WIOA alone simply will not get it done,” Sullivan said. With the passage of Workforce Pell, the committee “has the chance to change lives,” he said.

Workforce Pell, he added, will benefit not only adults without an education, but a person with a baccalaureate degree displaced by automation or artificial intelligence who needs to reskill.

“Workforce Pell is a huge part of the solution in educating the American people,” Sullivan said.

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
Tabitha Whissemore is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.
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