Magazine article Training & Development

The New Workforce Investment Act

Magazine article Training & Development

The New Workforce Investment Act

Article excerpt

New one-stop training services: It's the law.

Following several years of Congressional hearings and debates among policymakers at all levels of government, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. WIA went into effect July 7, 1998, kicking off a major undertaking to streamline and improve public-sector employment and training services.

During the next two years, business, trainers, public officials, and educators will develop a new universal system to improve workforce quality. The new law is positioned not only to empower customers, but also to provide opportunities for business and human resource professionals to focus public programs on marketplace needs. If the restructuring called for under WIA succeeds, it will create the architecture needed to address the long-term challenges around retraining and upgrading the skills of the U.S. workforce.

In effect, WIA replaces the Job Training Partnership Act. Enacted in 1982, JTPA created the existing system of federal workforce development programs and monies that states and local governments use to provide employment and training services. Though well-intentioned, the existing programs and services have been fiddled with problems. Customers and employers complain that the programs are too narrowly focused and difficult to access. Further, many of the agencies with responsibility for overseeing the programs lack the information needed to manage them and measure performance.

WIA sets out to address those issues. The new law consolidates more than 70 federal job-training programs and provides states with the flexibility to develop streamlined, universal workforce-development systems in partnership with local governments.

Under the new law, each U.S. governor must establish a business-led State Workforce Investment Board to help develop a five-year strategic plan for the new system. Each state must designate local service delivery areas where local elected officials will appoint Workforce Investment Boards to replace Private Industry Councils. These local business-led boards will establish and oversee local one-stop service center systems, ensure the quality of training, and monitor program results.

At the core of the new system are one-stop service centers. Currently, more than 800 centers are operating across the United States, and 95 percent of states are establishing one-stops. These centers provide job seekers with a range of services, including career counseling, skill assessments, training, job search assistance, and referrals to programs and services depending on a person's needs. In addition, people who meet specific criteria qualify for financial assistance in the form of Individual Training Accounts (vouchers). People use the funds to purchase training from qualified providers. States have the discretion to determine how the vouchers are distributed and how much they're worth.

Program performance and continuous improvement will be assessed at the service provider, career center, and statewide levels of the system. Both the state and local workforce development systems will be measured annually regarding job placements, retention of people in jobs, earning gains for people receiving jobs, and skill attainment of individuals who have received training.

Easy access

A primary focus of WIA is to meet the needs of business for skilled workers and to meet the training, education, and employment needs of individuals. To accomplish that mission, the new system will be based on the one-stop concept, in which information about and access to a wide range of job training, education, and employment services is available to customers at a single neighborhood location. In practical terms, one-stop career centers offer services to new or current workers at all stages of their careers. The centers help people who are new to the job market acquire work-readiness skills. …

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