In a rare act of bipartisan cooperation, the Senate on Wednesday approved by a vote of 95-3 a bill that reauthorizes and consolidates a number of federal job training programs. Among other things, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) amends and reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA), eliminates 15 existing federal workforce programs and streamlines others, and allows businesses to provide greater input at the local level regarding the types of skills needed in today’s economy.  Sponsored by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the WIOA blends provisions of the House-passed Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which has been pending in the Senate. The legislation reflects months of bipartisan and bicameral negotiations to reach an agreement on improvements to the workforce development system.  

As discussed in an information page issued by Sen. Murray’s office, provisions of the compromise legislation: 

  • Align workforce development programs with economic development and education initiatives;
  • Enable businesses to identify in-demand skills and connect workers with the opportunities to build those skills;
  • Require core workforce programs to develop a single, comprehensive state plan to streamline the process and reduce reporting requirements;
  • Ensure individuals with disabilities have the skills necessary to be successful in businesses that provide competitive, integrated employment. 

Section C of the bill outlines the requirements for the Job Corps program, which creates a state-community partnership to assist young workers with skills training and employment. Notably, section 154 of the bill requires that each Job Corps center created by the program maintain a workforce council. The majority members of these councils “shall be owners of business concerns, chief executives or chief operating officers of nongovernmental employers, or other private sector employers, who (i) have substantial management, hiring, or policy responsibility; and (ii) represent businesses with employment opportunities that reflect the employment opportunities of the applicable local  areas in which enrollees will be seeking employment.” 

The responsibilities of the workforce council will be: 

  1. to work closely with all applicable local boards in order to determine, and recommend to the Secretary, appropriate career and technical education and training for the center;
  2. to review all the relevant labor market information, including related information in the State plan or the local plan, to—
    1. recommend the in-demand industry sectors or occupations in the area in which the Job Corps center operates;
    2. determine the employment opportunities in the local areas in which the enrollees intend to seek employment after graduation;
    3. determine the skills and education that are necessary to obtain the employment opportunities; and
    4. recommend to the Secretary the type of career and technical education and training that should be implemented at the center to enable the enrollees to obtain the employment opportunities. 

The bill’s focus on “in-demand” industries and occupations is designed to help close the skills gap that has left numerous jobs unfilled.    In essence, employers will be able to provide significant input about the skills and training needed to better match up job seekers with vacancies. 

A detailed discussion of the measure can be found here. A fact sheet outlining the changes to current law can be found here.

The House is expected to approve, and the President is expected to sign, this bill, making it one of the few employment-related laws enacted this term.