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Hearing Recap: WIOA Edition

Yesterday’s Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Examining America’s Workforce Challenges: Looking for Ways to Improve Skills Development.” 

The hearing covered reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and the need for reforms to help America overcome the skills gap in our nation’s workforce. With 10 million unfilled jobs in the U.S., enhancing skills-based education will help connect dislocated workers with in-demand careers.

“Simply put, the skills gap is the growing disconnect between employer needs and employee competencies,” Chairman Burgess Owens (R-UT) said in his opening statement. He further added, “Without swift action, the skills gap is in danger of becoming a skills canyon.”

Effectively reskilling and upskilling our workforce will require employers to be in the driver’s seat. Republican-invited witness Lydia Logan, Vice President of Global Education and Workforce Development at IBM, understands this better than most. In her testimony, she described how IBM is helping close the skills gap by creating apprenticeship programs, eliminating baccalaureate degree requirements for many jobs, and reskilling veterans in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Republican-invited witness Bruce Ferguson, CEO of CareerSource Northeast Florida, spoke about his experience integrating WIOA into the business community in Jacksonville. His insight on WIOA reform can be summed up with one line: “The key to getting companies to use WIOA services is to keep it simple!”

If the goal is to equip workers with in-demand skills, Congress should listen to employers’ needs. Many employers see navigating bureaucratic red tape as a daunting task, so modest reforms – like simply reducing an eight-page application to five pages – could go a long way towards improving participation in skills-based education programs.

Moreover, bureaucratic excess increases costs. Republican solutions seek to minimize the administrative waste in workforce programs, especially given the system reskilled fewer than 100,000 adult workers in the past year. In the words of Chairwoman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce Virginia Foxx (R-NC): “Too much money is going to administrators. Bureaucrats feather their own nest with WIOA money.”

The last Republican-invited witness, John Pallasch, CEO of One Workforce Solutions, used his opening statement to outline three more areas where Congress could legislate to improve the workforce system. These included: providing the right incentives for State and Local Workforce Boards, holding actors accountable for poor performing workforce programs, and pursuing targeted changes to WIOA to align the system with employer needs.

Accountability is critical.

In the Q&A session of the hearing, Representative Nathaniel Moran (R-TX) reiterated the need for accountability, and Pallasch further elaborated on the legal mechanisms to ensure it: “Unfortunately, there was no sub-regulatory guidance from the Department of Labor on how to administer sanctions until February 2020.”
In other words, WIOA existed for five years without the federal government weighing in on how to hold state and local boards accountable for low performance. For our Republic to function properly, all levels of government need to hold each other accountable.

Finally, as a former business leader, Representative John James (R-MI) highlighted our shared interest in a strong workforce system – on both sides of the aisle. He found common ground with Ranking Member Frederica Wilson (D-FL), saying, “I, based upon the comments of the Ranking Member earlier, would estimate that we agree there should be no wrong path – there should be no wrong path – to pursue the American Dream.”

That’s because skills development is a bipartisan issue. Back in 2014 when WIOA became law, the government looked very similar to today. Democrats controlled the White House and Senate, while Republicans controlled the House of Representatives. With a similar bipartisan effort, we can reauthorize WIOA this Congress.

Bottom Line: The Committee is working to deliver greater results for job creators, job seekers, and taxpayers. 
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