States are stepping up their planning in response to the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (Opportunity Act). Several have already published their state plans for public comment. Others are in the process of drafting theirs, and have announced key aspects of their plans.
The Opportunity Act allows states, in submitting plans, to offer (1) “unified” plans for joint planning of the four core federal programs: the Title I Adult, Youth and Dislocated Worker programs, the Wagner-Peyser Employment Service, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation; or (2) “combined” state plans in which states can include plans for other workforce development programs authorized by other federal laws. Reports are that several states intend to use the combined state planning option to coordinate administration of multiple federal funding streams, like Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Program, the Senior Community Service Employment Programs, and the Jobs for Veterans State Grants Program, to name a few.
Despite that fact that federal officials have not yet finalized planning guidance, or created the website to accept state plans, the Opportunity Act state plans are due March 3.
Enhancing Employer Engagement in the Opportunity Act Era
The Urban Institute last month convened an on-line forum featuring leaders from workforce, employers, and other organizations to discuss employer engagement in the new Opportunity Act era. The experts agreed that multilayers of employer engagement contribute to successful workforce development initiatives, and that it helps tremendously to have employer-facing staff members with industry smarts. Also, building effective employer engagement requires patience, persistence and, again, enough specific knowledge to ask the right questions. One panelist said it was an art form to draw busy plant managers, human resources staff, or presidents of small businesses into conversations that yield important results, but agencies should continue to try, because better employer engagement is possible, particularly when agencies can support job placements and worker retention.
In conjunction with the seminar, the Institute released a report on establishing and expanding employer partnerships. Called, “The Goals and Dimensions of Employer Engagement in Workforce Development Programs,” the report states:
Engaging employers is an important strategy for workforce development programs; it can help align programs with employer needs so participants can secure jobs. The public workforce system has sought to engage employers for several decades, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 strongly emphasizes the importance of partnering with employers. Federal grant programs and initiatives funded by private philanthropy have also made building relationships with employers a priority. Despite this push for workforce organizations to be more responsive to the industries that might hire program graduates, workforce systems and organizations struggle with how to effectively engage employers and build deeper partnerships.
This brief offers a simple framework that lays out why workforce programs engage employers and why employers engage with workforce programs. It specifies how employers are involved with workforce programs and describes the challenges for both sides. This framework can help workforce organizations sharpen their thinking about employer engagement and their goals for such partnerships.