06.26.2013

Why we must update WIA now

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) met Thursday to advance the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The Act, which was passed fifteen years ago and has not been updated since, is the focus of a recent bi-partisan effort to address unemployment nationally and regionally, and to continue developing a skilled workforce for a competitive economy.

A panel of four workforce professionals from across the country presented a picture of local efforts to address skills gaps, business needs, access to training and education programs, vocational rehabilitation and unemployment.  Leaders from North Carolina, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Georgia spoke about the challenges they face in developing employment initiatives—and why updating WIA is a necessary step towards meeting the growing complexities of today’s workforce.  The committee, chaired by Senator Harkin (D-IA), asked questions about what local workforce boards and employment initiatives need in order to be successful in an increasingly diverse and technical job market.  The message was clear:  flexibility, local control and on-the-job training opportunities were all cited time and time again as the necessary tools for effective job placement.

Echoing that sentiment, both Senator Harkin and Senator Isakson (R-GA) spoke concretely about the need for local flexibility—allowing each region to identify their economic need, resources, business partners and method.  Beverly Smith, State Director for Adult Education, Technical College System of Georgia, said that they focus on the three R’s—Revive, Refocus and Retrain—to get unemployed adults connected to jobs.  Speaking about the need for pay-for-performance metrics, an approach Opportunity Nation advocates in our Shared Plan, she said everyone involved in these efforts must be held accountable for measures of success.  Steve Partridge, President and CEO of Charlotte Works in North Carolina, said that current economic climate and skills mismatch is an opportunity we cannot afford to waste.  He stressed the importance of working closely with businesses to identify their needs which are not being met by the current workforce.  With that information, Mr. Partridge said we needed to act quickly and update our job training programs to “meet the post-recession and beyond market realities.”   If we fail to adapt and upgrade our training and education methods he says, “It will come at a high cost to employers, job seekers and the economy.”

In a closing statement, Senator Murray (D-WA) said that the world has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years.   To adapt to that change we must create an increasingly dynamic workforce.  Updating WIA plays a vital role in that effort, and the good news is leaders from both parties seem to agree.  The House passed its version of WIA reauthorization in March. The Senate is expected to introduce a WIA bill in late July.

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