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What is Workforce Development?

WIA and the Workforce Development System

Workforce development is the general term used to describe activities and services designed to increase individuals’ employment and earning potential, such as job-search and placement assistance, career counseling, training and other job preparation activities. Workforce development also is sometimes called workforce investment or employment services.

Workforce development services are provided through a nationwide system of public and private agencies working in partnership with local communities and businesses. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) mandated the streamlining and integration of the various groups involved in workforce development activities in order to improve the skills of America’s workforce, reduce welfare dependency and enhance the nation’s productivity and competitiveness. Clearly, achieving these goals requires collaboration among the numerous Federal, state and local agencies, non-profit organizations, employers and workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) created WIA in cooperation with the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and other agencies that oversee training and employment programs. It was the first reform of the nation’s job training system in more than 15 years, replaced the Job Training Partnership Act (JPTA) and is up for reauthorization in 2003.

WIA has five underlying principles:

  • Business leadership—The business community should play an active role in preparing people for current and future jobs by providing local leadership and critical labor market information.
  • Local management—Training and employment programs should be designed and managed at the local level, where the needs of businesses and individuals are best understood.
  • One-Stop convenience—Job seekers and employers should be able to conveniently access employment, education, training and other information services they need at a single location in their communities—One-Stop Career Centers.
  • Individual choice—Customers should control their own career development process and have options in selecting the training activities that best fit their needs and the organizations that provide such services.
  • Accountability—Customers have a right to information about how well training providers succeed in preparing people for jobs.

WIA reformed the nation’s workforce development system to be more comprehensive in order to provide services for all individuals seeking jobs and employers seeking workers. Key components of the reformed system are Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) and One-Stop Career Centers.

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Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs)

WIBs operate at both the state and local level. State WIBs help governors develop strategic plans for workforce development goals and activities. They also explain how WIA requirements will be implemented and outline outreach strategies to serve special populations. State WIB members include state and local officials, employers and representatives from community-based organizations.

Local WIBs plan and oversee local workforce development activities. They designate One Stop Career Center operators, identify training service providers, create performance measures with the assistance of state WIBs, monitor performance and help develop local labor market information systems. Local WIB members include locally elected officials; business and education leaders; representatives from faith-based, community-based, labor and economic development organizations; and One-Stop Career Center partners.

In addition, Local Youth Councils develop plans specific to youth, recommend providers of youth services and coordinate with local youth initiatives. Local Youth Council members are appointed by local WIBs and include WIB members, youth service providers, public housing authorities, education agencies and local youth themselves.

WIA mandates that particular sectors be represented on WIBs; however, WIBs may include other, additional individuals selected and/or approved by locally elected officials, including substance abuse treatment providers. Becoming one of these voluntary partners offers an opportunity for substance abuse treatment programs to get involved in WIB activities. Such a relationship would be established though a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

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One-Stop Career Centers

One-Stop Career Centers serve both employers and job seekers. They are local facilities where access to a variety of job training, education and employment services are available under one roof. One-Stops are managed by their own staff, but policies and procedures are governed by their local WIBs. To locate the One-Stop nearest to them, job seekers and employers can use America’s Service Locator or call 1-877-US-2-JOBS.

Through Individual Training Accounts (ITAs), individual adult One-Stop customers are able to choose the training that best suits their needs, in consultation with a case manager. The One-Stop provides customers with lists of eligible training providers and information about how well these providers perform. A key concept behind ITAs is that granting individuals choice based on performance information helps foster increased competition and thus improves outcomes among local training service providers.

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Who is Served and What Services are Available

The workforce development system governed by WIA was designed to serve multiple audiences, including employers, adults, dislocated workers and youth. To be eligible for adult and dislocated worker services, individuals must be at least 18 years old. To receive dislocated worker services, individuals must have been terminated or laid off. Displaced homemakers (individuals who have been providing unpaid services to family members and have been dependent on the income of another family member but are no longer supported by that income) are also eligible. If adult funds are limited in an area, recipients of public assistance and low-income individuals receive priority.

Eligible youth under WIA are defined as low-income individuals between the ages of 14 and 21; however, some youth in a local area who are not considered low-income may be eligible for services if they face certain barriers to school completion or employment. Such barriers may include incompletion of high school, lack of basic literacy skills, pregnancy, being a parent, homelessness and/or a criminal record, among others.

Services for Employers

Through One-Stops, employers can benefit from recruitment and pre-screening of qualified applicants, a place to advertise vacancies, information about job and industry growth trends, labor market information and compliance assistance on federal legislation affecting employment.

Services for Adults

Core services such as job search and placement assistance, skills and needs assessments, service provider information, unemployment insurance and labor market information are available to all adults with no eligibility requirements. Intensive services, which include more comprehensive skills assessments, diagnostic testing and group and individual counseling, target unemployed individuals who are unable to find jobs though core services alone. Under some circumstances, employed individuals may be eligible for intensive services. Both core and intensive services include 12 months of follow-up after job placement. Training is provided to eligible job seekers through ITAs.

Services for Youth

Youth services can lead to either employment or post-secondary education and link academic and occupational education. Services may be located within a One-Stop or at a separate location just for youth and must include tutoring and study skills, drop-out prevention, alternative school programs, mentoring by appropriate adults, paid and unpaid work experience, occupational skills training, leadership development and appropriate support activities, such as drug and alcohol counseling.

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Substance Abuse Issues Under WIA

Both One-Stop Career Centers and substance abuse treatment centers face challenges since the individuals they serve often have multi-faceted job preparation needs. Although, WIA does not specifically indicate how individuals with substance abuse problems should be treated within the workforce development context, it does stipulate that no individual can be excluded from participation in or denied the benefits or services because of a disability. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

In certain circumstances, alcoholics and drug addicts in treatment or recovery may be qualified individuals with a disability and protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other Federal disability non-discrimination laws, including Sec. 188 of WIA. However, regardless of whether or not an individual’s alcohol or drug use problems constitute a disability, they often present major barriers to employment that warrant attention. In addition to job preparation, services authorized by WIA include childcare, transportation and other support activities to address such barriers that may help individuals successfully secure and maintain employment. Collaboration between treatment providers and workforce development professionals can, for some individuals, ensure they have access to all services they need in order to work.

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Welfare Reform and Substance Abuse

In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), also known as the Welfare Reform Act, fostered a new vision for public assistance—welfare as short term, emergency aid focused on increasing self-sufficiency through unsubsidized, full-time employment. It created a new system of block grants to states called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and drastically changed the nature and provision of welfare benefits in America.

With emphasis on "work-first” and short-term financial assistance, TANF impelled welfare agencies to strengthen their workforce development activities, either by bolstering their in-house capabilities or forging relationships with the nationwide workforce development system, in order to help families transition off of welfare.

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 then authorized the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to provide Welfare-to-Work (WtW) competitive grants to states and communities to create additional job opportunities for the hardest-to-employ recipients of TANF. Grantees were given considerable flexibility in designing strategies geared to the needs of their own local labor markets and economies. Grants provided job readiness, community service or work experience, job creation through public-or private-sector employment wage subsidies, on-the-job training, job placement services, and post-employment and job retention services to long-term welfare recipients and non-custodial parents of children on welfare who were considered hardest to employ.

Eligibility criteria outlined in the original WtW legislation specifically included individuals with substance abuse problems, and although the criteria were later simplified to not include this level of specificity, substance abuse remains a barrier faced by many welfare recipients. WtW allowed grantees to use Federal funds for alcohol and drug treatment as long as services were non-medical (such as sessions with counselors, technicians, social workers and psychologists and services not provided in a hospital or clinic, including 24-hour care programs). These types of services are critical to individuals working towards recovery who are transitioning off welfare. States could use their own or other funds to provide medical treatment.