The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) supports individuals from sectors across society who are looking for employment, training, or other workforce assistance. WIOA is a federal program implemented by states and it has only been active since July 1, 2016. The program is supported by a bipartisan majority and has been praised by many for its work. However, President Trump has called for a 39% cut in WIOA funding in his 2018 Fiscal Year (FY) budget, which caused the House to call a hearing in the Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee. It will be important moving forward to take advantage of any quantitative data that emerges on WIOA, but since there is none, one must rely on qualitative evidence to support the continuation of WIOA’s work without the 39% proposed cut.
WIOA was signed into law by President Obama in July 2014 as a bipartisan accomplishment, with major support from the Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and Workforce, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC). WIOA aids individuals from all areas of society, particularly youth, displaced workers, and individuals with disabilities through various initiatives, which are determined and carried out by state-level workforce boards. While WIOA is a federal act, it relies on states to create programs for employees and employers. On June 15th President Trump signed an executive order to reduce the government’s role in creating apprenticeship programs to give more freedom to industries to create their own apprenticeship programs. Participants will still have to follow the Department of Labor’s broad guidelines, but programs will now be more directly tailored to in-demand sector skills, which will make apprentices more desirable hires for companies. Simultaneously, the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development held a hearing on WIOA and its impact.
One of the main ways that states utilize WIOA funding is through apprenticeship programs, which are essentially an “earn and learn” model that give participants an opportunity to earn wages while learning a profitable trade. In FY 2016 there were over 21,000 registered apprenticeship programs and over 505,000 active apprentices. While the success of these programs has not been thoroughly quantitatively studied, there is a multitude of anecdotes touting the benefits of apprenticeships. Logically, it follows that specialized training for an industry would yield benefits for individuals, who otherwise may not have had a way to enter occupations with a greater return. Employers also benefit because they have a supply of workers with the skills that their company needs.
WIOA also funds job centers that help place unemployed individuals in new careers or positions as well as training courses. Another key program is Career and Technical Education (CTE), which can receive WIOA funding to assist students in preparing for a technical career. Engaging students early can ensure they enter the workforce and help them with better job placement. An important aspect with CTE is cooperation and engagement of teachers, to support students from CTE programs and in the classroom.
Proposed Changes to WIOA
President Trump’s proposed budget for FY 2018 includes a 39% cut (-$1341 million) in funding for WIOA, citing a shift in responsibility from the federal government to states, localities, and companies. The administration quotes two different studies of WIOA’s predecessors, the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Neither of the studies demonstrated clear overall negative or positive effects from the programs, but, at least with WIA, it was too early to generate any definitive results. In the same budget that proposes cuts in WIOA, the White House also plans to cut funding for the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) and the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP), saying that both programs are covered under WIOA. Last year these two programs received $516 million in funding, 24% of the proposed WIOA spending for FY 2018. If the two programs continue to utilize the funding they currently receive, that would cut funding for other WIOA programs even more. While the SCSEP has had mixed success rates, NFJP has helped workers through recurring grants, and in the past, has exceeded target goals of employment and monthly earnings, showing great benefits to migrant workers and farmers in the United States.
Regardless of cuts to WIOA through the addition of other programs, the 39% cut to its funding alone would hurt the approximately 20 million Americans who take advantage of WIOA programs through job assistance, apprenticeships, CTE, and others. According to witnesses at the WIOA hearing on June 15th, these cuts would decrease the individuals served, reduce intensive one-on-one job training and support, hurt businesses by decreasing partnerships with job trainings, and decrease CTE opportunities. With President Trump’s promised rise in apprenticeships but cuts in WIOA, money may need to be drawn from other programs to fund more apprenticeships, which would hurt other beneficial programs, and hurt the status of America’s workforce. The overwhelming opinion of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee was one of strong support for WIOA, and trepidation of President Trump’s cuts to WIOA.
While there has been no large data collection on WIOA, there are already many positive anecdotes of its impact. WIOA requires participants to report on the results of programming and to gather data for analysis, which could further show its benefit, but this data will most likely not be evident for a few years. President Trump’s cuts to WIOA of 39% alone would hurt program participants, but his elimination of SCSEP and NFJP puts a greater strain on WIOA funds to provide for seniors and agricultural workers, as does as his goal of increasing apprenticeships. Legislators should continue to support WIOA, especially under President Trump’s conflicting positions.