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Legislation moves to U.S. Senate to reauthorize Obama law for youth workforce development

Rebecca Barnabi
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(© Zoran Zeremski – stock.adobe.com)

The U.S. House approved passage on April 9 of the Stronger Workforce for America Act, which reauthorizes the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

The reauthorization will directly impact young adult career pathways by strengthening access to training opportunities like apprenticeships. A Stronger Workforce for America improved the WIOA system in many ways, however, more needs to be done to revolutionize current systems.

The bipartisan WIOA, signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 22, 2014, created a new vision for how America prepares an educated and skilled workforce that expands opportunity for workers and employers. WIOA represents the most significant reform to American public workforce development system in nearly 20 years.

One significant improvement in 2024 to the legislation is the introduction of Conditional Eligibility for newer programs to build a base of outcomes and achieve standard eligibility. The provision allows young adults to participate in a training activity while the provider determines if a participant is qualified, making it significantly easier for young adults to focus on starting job training rather than proving they are eligible candidates.
By expanding the definition of “youth” to “opportunity youth,” the l0egislation will create a more equitable eligibility system. The other positive provisions increase funding for work experiences and streamline the enrollment process. Provisions also strengthen career and technical training pipelines by allowing in-school youth to use individual training accounts for CTE programs.
While the bill improves many aspects of the WIOA system that will expand training opportunities for young adults, several provisions will hinder career growth for young adults.
A major issue is a reduction in the requirement for state spending on opportunity youth from 75 percent to 65 percent. The change could potentially lead to decreased support for the most vulnerable youth populations, which is a step in the wrong direction. Furthermore, while the requirement for longer internships to be paid is beneficial, fair pay and consistency for all internships across the local area is necessary. No provision exists to re-establish youth workforce boards which would increase youth representation/decision-making power for local and state workforce development initiatives.
“Effective workforce pathways are critical to economic opportunity for young adults. A Stronger Workforce for America Act is a step in the right direction for a more functional and equitable workforce system. However, it lacks necessary components which focus on workforce boards, data collection, state plans, and the navigator system,” Alex Lundrigan, Workforce and Finance Policy Coordinator at Young Invincibles said.
According to Lundrigan, before the U.S. Senate considers the legislation, lawmakers must pause and meet with advocates to discuss revisions and additions. “Ultimately, the bipartisan nature of this bill casts an optimistic outlook for the future of WIOA reauthorization. Young Invincibles will continue to advocate for a comprehensive bill that ensures the WIOA system facilitates equitable career pathways.”

The 21st century public workforce development system created through WIOA builds closer ties between business leaders, state and local Workforce Development Boards, labor unions, community colleges, non-profit organizations, youth-serving organizations and state and local officials to deliver a more job-driven approach to training and skills development. The system will deliver integrated, job-driven services to job seekers, including youth and those with barriers to employment, as well as to workers and employers.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.