Tag Archives: adult education

WIOA creates new opportunities for career pathways and for program alignment among federal workforce training programs. Here are ten things community and technical colleges need to know.

Guest Blog by Tim Harmon, Workforce Enterprise Services, Inc.

April 2016

President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law on July 22, 2014. WIOA replaces the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, and makes some important changes to the public workforce system, many of which have important implications for community and technical colleges. Here are ten of the most important things that community and technical colleges should know about WIOA:


  1. 1. WIOA increases the emphasis on alignment of programs and services across several federal workforce and education funding streams. This is especially true of the four “core” programs (Title I career and training services, Title II Adult Education and Family Literacy services, Title III Wagner-Peyser Employment Services, and Title IV Rehabilitation Services). WIOA also expands the scope of required partnerships, including Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) employment and training programs.


  1. 2. WIOA implements common performance indicators across the four core programs. There are six key indicators of performance:
  • The percentage of program participants who are in unsubsidized employment during the second quarter after exit from the program (for Title I youth programs, this includes those in education or training services).
  • The percentage of program participants who are in unsubsidized employment during the fourth quarter after exit from the program (also including education and training for Title I youth).
  • The median earnings of program participants who are in unsubsidized employment during the second quarter after exit from the program.
  • A new measure of the attainment of a “recognized postsecondary credential,” or a secondary school diploma or its equivalent, for those employed or in a postsecondary program within one year of exiting WIOA.
  • A new measure of “measureable skill gains” for participants who during a program year, are in an education or training program that leads to a postsecondary credential or employment and who are achieving measureable skill gains to such a credential or employment.
  • A new indicator of the effectiveness of the programs in serving employers (this is to be defined later).

States have to agree with the Secretaries of Labor and Education on outcome targets for each of these measures for each of the programs. States have to negotiate with local areas to set goals for the Title I measures, and these targets must take into account economic and demographic factors using a statistical adjustment model. This is good news for local areas, but WIOA seems poised to continue WIA’s emphasis on ambitious performance targets and tough accountability responses, especially for the Title I and II programs.

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  1. 3. Eligible training providers must report on their results against the first four WIOA measures for all students in each program, not just those enrolled in WIOA. Under WIA, the performance reporting requirement for all students in the eligible training programs had been waived by USDOL for almost all states. USDOL has said that they will no longer do this, so to provide education and training services to WIOA clients, community and technical colleges must provide employment and earnings outcomes – as well as postsecondary credential attainment outcomes – for all students in programs that also serve WIOA clients. States have until July 1 of this year to put in place their procedures for how training providers can provide the results information as required by WIOA.


  1. 4. WIOA Local Workforce Development Boards (LWDBs) continue to be responsible for local and regional planning, selecting One-Stop Center operators, and selecting training providers to be included in the eligible training provider list, but they have expanded roles in leading the analysis of the local economy and workforce needs, creating sector partnerships and encouraging the development of career pathways. A representative of postsecondary education must be on the local board – and community and technical colleges are the obvious partner in most local areas.


  1. 5. Core partners (and any other mandated partners as determined by the states) must cooperate in the provision of services through the local One-Stop delivery system. This means community and technical colleges must contribute a portion of funds or in-kind services needed to operate the local workforce system, including a negotiated share of the cost of the local One-Stop Career Center infrastructure.


  1. 6. WIOA eliminates the “sequence of services” requirements that existed under WIA. WIA imposed a screen on the eligibility of participants for enrollment in training, in that participants needed to receive initial core or intensive services first, and then could go on to training if they were unable to obtain employment. This discouraged many participants from accessing needed training services, and along with other features of WIA, resulted in a shift away from training for many local workforce programs. Under WIOA, these provisions have been removed, and therefore participants can go directly into postsecondary education and training without having to receive career services.


  1. 7. WIOA contains stronger provisions for targeting low-income persons and those with basic skills deficiencies, both for youth and adults. WIOA clarifies that the existing Priority of Service requirement in the Title I adult program applies regardless of how much or how little state or local funding is available; it is not contingent upon funds being “limited,” as was the requirement under WIA. WIOA also requires that at least 75 percent of available statewide funds and 75 percent of funds available to local areas be spent on workforce investment services for out-of-school youth, which is a substantial increase from the 30 percent required by WIA. WIOA also changes the out-of-school youth eligibility age to 16 to 24 years of age (it had been 16 to 21 years of age).


  1. 8. Local areas have broadened authority to use contracts for training services. WIOA continues the existing model of paying for training through Individual Training Accounts (ITAs), and ITAs can be combined with training contracts. However, other vehicles for training are also emphasized and expanded, including On-the-Job Training (OJT), pay-for-performance contracts, and incumbent worker training. These changes are meant to give local boards much more flexibility in crafting an effective response to the needs of employers and job seekers.


  1. 9. Local areas must give priority consideration to programs that lead to recognized postsecondary credentials that are aligned with demand occupations and industry sectors in the local area. WIOA places a strong emphasis on the analysis of occupational supply and demand and the development of sector partnerships. These are meant to ensure that the training investments are targeted to programs that have a high likelihood of leading to credentials with value in the labor market, and that respond directly to the needs of local industry. For the first time, the receipt of a postsecondary credential is a required performance outcome indicator for all WIOA clients.


  1. 10. WIOA encourages implementation of career pathways. WIOA defines career pathways, and makes career pathway strategies a function of state and local boards and a permissible activity throughout the Act. Under WIOA, the term ‘‘career pathway’’ means a combination of rigorous and high quality education, training, and other services that— (A) aligns with the skill needs of industries in the economy of the State or regional economy involved; (B) prepares an individual to be successful in any of a full range of secondary or postsecondary education options, including registered apprenticeships; (C) includes counseling to support an individual in achieving the individual’s education and career goals; (D) includes, as appropriate, education offered concurrently with and in the same context as workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster; (E) organizes education, training, and other services to meet the particular needs of an individual in a manner that accelerates the educational and career advancement of the individual to the extent practicable; (F) enables an individual to obtain a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent, and at least 1 recognized postsecondary credential; and (G) helps an individual enter or advance within a specific occupation or occupational cluster.

These ten features of WIOA taken together suggest a system that should be much more focused on training for credentials, sector-based career pathways; stronger targeting of lower income students and those with skill gaps; better collaboration among partners; greater flexibility in delivery options; and, broadened accountability. Community and technical colleges have a critical role to play in helping to build a local workforce system that delivers on these promising features.

 For more detail on WIOA, please see:

 Overview for Community Colleges

CLASP Overview of Key Provisions of WIOA

National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) Overview of WIOA

CLASP Toolkit for Funding Career Pathways



Aligning education and training systems to support adult learners

For the past eight years, I have partnered with Brandon Roberts + Associates to evaluate the Joyce Foundation’s Shifting Gears initiative. In September 2015, our final evaluation report was released documenting the progress Midwest states have made in aligning their adult education, community and technical college, and workforce development systems to better support adult learners. In this report, both Minnesota and Wisconsin warrant particular attention, because they have expanded adult education bridges to virtually all public two-year community and technical colleges; and also enacted state policies to provide several million dollars annually to expand and sustain this innovative programming for adult learners.

I expect that much attention will be made about the growth of adult education bridge programs in the Shifting Gears states – they more than doubled from 79 to 196 between 2011 and 2014. Attention will also be paid to the more than 10,000 adult learners who participated in these programs – and that this impressive number barely scratches the surface of the need in these states. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin conducted their own research about the effectiveness of these programs, and found that adult education bridge participants both earned more postsecondary credits and more postsecondary credentials than a comparison group. I imagine attention will be focused on these positive outcomes as well.

Yet, I think there is a more important story from Shifting Gears that policy makers, researchers, advocates, and philanthropic and corporate funders should pay attention to: the lessons we gleaned around what it takes to address systems change within and across state agencies. Aligning adult education, postsecondary and workforce development systems to better serve adult learners is an acutely needed system change – and one that many if not all practitioners, policymakers, funders and advocates can agree. Making progress towards such systems change is immensely challenging, because people generally do not know how to design, structure, and implement systems change efforts. I believe our evaluation of Shifting Gears raises some key lessons that should be understood if systems change is to be advanced in Midwest states as well as nationally.

First and foremost, systems change is slow and incremental, in part because these systems have deeply engrained ways of operating, with rules and policies that make innovation difficult. But change of this magnitude is also slow because of the way leaders and staff in these systems tends to operationalize external grants as temporary, confined, siloed, and marginal. To be fair, external grants really are a small speck relative to the operating budgets of state systems so treating grants accordingly is reasonable. Changing this mindset towards external grants from one of a short-lived investment to that of a strategic lever to alter the way these systems operate should be articulated up front if systems change is the objective. And, critically, the philanthropic community needs to stay invested over a longer duration to support these efforts – 10 years in my view.

Second, achieving systems change requires strategic planning, intentionality, and resources – including the support of executive-level leaders. Systems change is less likely, and certainly a much slower process, if planning is opportunistic and activities are limited to those the grant itself can support. So, if systems change is the objective, system leaders need to develop and execute a strategic implementation plan; at least one staff person will need to be dedicated exclusively to this effort with a clear understanding that reforming and/or aligning systems is the goal; and staff and supervisors will need external advising and support to influence both the pace of systems change and progress towards the desired outcomes. There are many capable professionals working in our education and training systems, but reforming the agencies and institutions in which they work is not part of their everyday responsibilities.

Third, efforts to foster transformative change in the practices of institutions and systems require significant policy change and investment or reallocation of state resources. Policy change is a necessary condition for systems change, and is not limited to high profile, legislative matters. In actuality, the policy changes most critical to support systems change are often administrative, regulatory, and reporting policies that can be changed by system leaders. A key aspect of policy change should emphasize the reallocation of existing resources so that new, innovative practices replace long-standing and less effective ones. To successfully reallocate existing resources requires the support of local practitioners – and this issue, like systems change itself, must be addressed directly and systematically. Real and sustainable systems change is not possible if led solely from the top. Local stakeholders needed to embrace change and become champions for new ways of delivering education and training. Engaging local leaders through professional development workshops and onsite training, as well as providing access to key materials such as curriculum and lesson plans, appears fundamental to building broad and deep support for systems change.

In short, systems change is slow and incremental, and can take around 10 years to achieve. By staying the course over a decade, funders and reformers can make demonstrable progress towards systems change; and in doing so can foster culture change in our education and training systems so that innovative and change becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Visit the Joyce Foundation site.

See final report on Joyce Foundation Shifting Gears.

Derek V. Price