The chances are increasing that we will see the Workforce Investment Act reauthorized, in some form, in our lifetimes. Betting on when the Workforce Investment Act will be reauthorized is like predicting the next ice age. Nevertheless, in the ten years since it “expired,” the chances of success are higher today than they have ever been. Historically, workforce development has not, per se, been an especially partisan issue but the drama around budgets, sequestration, and shutdowns, has made nearly everything in the federal “discretionary” budget up for debate.

In the President’s State of the Union address on January 29, he dedicated some three paragraphs of this valuable real estate to employment and training – enough to cause most of us workforce development professionals to dance the jig. And more of the debate is finding common ground. Both sides are starting to talk about sectors and the desirability of sector strategies in workforce development.

In the US Senate, in fact, we hope to see the proposed Sectors Act as an amendment to the reauthorized Workforce Investment Act. The House version however, has some major obstacles. House members are still clinging to the “consolidation” idea claiming that if there are 35 different employment and training programs then, by golly, 34 of them must be “redundant.” This is not a claim one can easily defend, of course. As an Agency responsible for some two dozen different employment and training programs, we can happily report that individuals generally do not become enrolled in more than one each. We are not against consolidation to the extent it would reduce overhead and the cost of compliance. The bigger issue however, is the overall capacity of our workforce system. Here at National Able Network, we actually enroll (read: “count”), only about one percent of the individuals who walk through our doors needing help. So consolidate all you want, but net-net, the Congress needs to increase the overall funding now dedicated to employment and training programs.

The good news is both Democrats and Republicans support employment and training in their own ways. Take the recently passed Farm Bill: the debate was around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps) provision, which ended up only modestly altered. What the parties agreed to though, was the inclusion of employment and training in the Bill for individuals eligible under Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Since there has to be something they disagree about, the question still under discussion is whether the employment and training provision for food stamp recipients should be mandatory (the right), or not mandatory (the left). Either way, we now have $200M available for employment and training in the new Farm Bill, of which $10M will be spent in 2014 to conduct employment and training pilot programs. Expect some of those “pilots” to include mandatory employment and training provisions and others not.

 

Photo credit: National Skills Coalition, pictured: President & CEO, Grace Jenkins, and Board Member, Grailing Jones in attendance at the 2014 Skills Summit hosted February 10-11 in Washington D.C. The Skills Summit brings various organizations from around the country to discuss policy reform that will improve workforce education and training policies.