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WORKFORCE INNOVATION AND OPPORTUNITY ACT: Bipartisan Group of Federal Legislators Announces Agreement on Legislation to Modernize Workforce Development Programs and Re-Engage Out-of-School Youth

On May 21, a bipartisan group of legislators in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives announced an agreement on legislation to modernize existing federal workforce development programs by helping workers attain skills for today’s jobs, improving employment training and opportunities for people with disabilities, and providing support for out-of-school youth and youth career and technical skill development. The bill, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) would update the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which has been due for reauthorization for more than a decade.

“Access to training, education, and employment services opens doors to the middle class across the country and helps strengthen the economy. This bipartisan, bicameral reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act will help ensure that all workers—including those with disabilities—can access these opportunities, while providing for better coordination and value to our workforce development system,” said Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA). “It will stem the flow of young people into segregated employment by requiring that they be given experience in integrated settings, and require state vocational rehabilitation programs to work with individuals to develop an individual employment plan and support them in integrated work settings.”

“We can’t expect a modern workforce to succeed with an outdated job training system. The current workforce development system is broken with too much bureaucracy, too many inefficiencies, and too little accountability,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MM). “The problems we face have been apparent for a long time and I am pleased we are moving toward adopting comprehensive reform that provides employers, workers, and taxpayers the job training solutions they deserve. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send this agreement to the president’s desk without delay.”

Representing a compromise between the SKILLS (Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills) Act, which passed the House in March 2013 and WIA of 2013, which passed the Senate HELP Committee in July 2013, the WIOA would focus youth program services on supporting programs that provide career pathways for youth, dropout recovery efforts, and education and training that lead to the attainment of a high school diploma and a recognized postsecondary credential. It would support entities with a proven ability to successfully connecting at-risk and out-of-school youth to the workforce while providing them with intensive academics and career and technical education and training, as well as support services such as child care.

“Every year, federal workforce investments help millions of Americans get back to work, go back to school, and increase their skills for an economy that’s changing faster than ever, but for too long, we’ve been relying on workforce development programs written in the 1990s,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). “This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will bring federal worker programs into the twenty-first century, give workers and students the resources they need to succeed, and foster a workforce that American businesses rely on to compete.”

The WOIA would support programs that provide tutoring, study skills training, instruction, and evidence-based dropout prevention and recovery strategies that lead to a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent—including a recognized certificate of attendance or similar document for individuals with disabilities—or for a recognized postsecondary credential. It would also support the development of alternative, evidence-based programs and other activities that encourage young people to reenter and complete secondary education, enroll in postsecondary education and advanced training, progress through a career pathway, and enter into unsubsidized employment that leads to economic self-sufficiency.

“Each year, approximately 800,000 students drop out of school before earning a high school diploma,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “After dropping out, these young people often find themselves in ‘limbo,’ lacking the education and skills necessary for a good job, but disconnected from school and a supportive path to success. Although I would prefer to see a greater emphasis on earning a high school diploma rather than a GED, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act can help provide America’s disconnected youth with an important lifeline to re-engage with their education and take the steps necessary to become productive members of society.”

The bill would also allow for a study by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the U.S. Secretary of Labor to examine (1) characteristics of “disconnected youth,” who are young people not in school and not working; (2) ways in which they could have greater opportunities for education attainment and obtaining employment; and (3) resources available to assist them in obtaining the skills, credentials, and work experience necessary to become economically self-sufficient and reach their potential.

A one-page summary of the legislation is available at http://1.usa.gov/1noDsoG.

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