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Empowering Today's Economy by Training Tomorrow's Workforce

Student in a library.

Our nation's prosperity depends on individuals having the education and skills to obtain good jobs and progress along their career pathways, and employers finding workers with the skills to support their growth and the nation's economic prosperity. How well we educate our citizens and help hard-working Americans in entry-level jobs gain the skills they need to advance in the workplace matters. Together, businesses, working with the nation's public workforce system, can support our ability to transform low-wage and entry-level jobs into gateways to the middle class.

Vice President Biden recently emphasized the importance of business engagement in his landmark report, Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity. The report highlighted seven key elements within a new "Job-Driven Training Checklist." This checklist will continue to make our federal education, workforce, and training programs more responsive to business needs and more focused on evidence-based practices. Engaging employers is one of the key elements on that checklist, and all federal agencies are being asked to integrate the element across grant programs in workforce education and training.

That's why we're excited about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which President Obama signed into law this July. The overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation represents the most significant reform of job training programs in more than a decade. It emphasizes "upskilling" – working with businesses, educators, tech innovators, unions, training providers, cities, states, and nonprofits to expand access and opportunity for all Americans.

The Departments of Education (ED) and Labor, together with the Department of Health and Human Services, are working to engage stakeholders across the country and hear ideas about how to effectively implement the new law. We also want to send a special message to businesses nationwide: We want and need to hear from you.

This new law provides an unprecedented chance to engage the business community. For example, there are currently 24 million hard-working Americans who need training that puts them on a pathway to access thousands of vacancies available in more skilled, better-paying jobs. WIOA gives businesses the opportunity to partner with workforce investment boards, school districts, community colleges, and nonprofits nationwide to build career ladders for entry-level and other workers, and to drive and support regional sector strategies that meet the workforce needs of employers. Further, it continues to place businesses at the lead of state and local workforce investment boards, which look at regional workforce needs and strategically invest our nation's funds.

Here are just a few ways that WIOA can work for your business:

  • Businesses can take advantage of increased access to work-based training. WIOA provides the ability for local workforce investment areas to help employers train their workers.
  • The law also increases reimbursement available for on-the-job training from 30 percent to 75 percent.
  • Under WIOA, businesses can collaborate with American Job Centers, community colleges, and adult education providers to develop integrated education and training programs—including Registered Apprenticeships—at the workplace to help employees gain basic and technical skills and advance to the next level of work. Further, this collaboration can support regional sector strategies and the development of career pathways that support job seekers and help meet the needs of employers.
  • There is an increased focus on serving out-of-school youth in WIOA. The new law requires local communities to spend at least 75 percent of available youth funding, or approximately $500 million, on this population. This provision goes into effect July 1, 2015. By partnering with the public sector to provide apprenticeships, internships, summer jobs, and other on-the-job training experiences, businesses can help the nation maximize opportunities for disconnected youth and build a skilled workforce.
  • Another feature of WIOA requires that the federal government measure the effectiveness of our services. We want to be sure that our programs add value. We need the input of business leaders to help decide on the right metrics.

At both ED and Labor, we value the contributions that business leaders can make in helping to craft workforce development solutions. We know there are many successful models for business and education partnerships across the country. But we also know that there is much more for us to learn.

We want to know about the innovative training solutions that your businesses are undertaking. How can we help you to take advantage of the opportunities under WIOA to train your workforce? What ideas do you have for measuring customer satisfaction?

Last month, during the third National Dialogue on Career Pathways, we heard from David L. Casey, Vice President of Workforce Strategies and Chief Diversity Officer at CVS Caremark, a Fortune 12 company.

Casey shared how CVS Caremark has invested in several training programs to upskill their workers, moving them from welfare to work and from entry-level staff to certified pharmacy technicians. Over the past few years, CVS Caremark has trained more than 90,000 apprentices and employed more than 20,000 students each summer. Importantly, this work was done in collaboration with state and local workforce agency partners.

Casey also issued a call to action to his peers to undertake just one thing—an internship, externship, apprenticeship program, or incumbent training—to increase the vitality and innovation of their workforce.

It's inspiring to see businesses expand access to training and provide supports for Americans to access pathways into the middle class. By taking advantage of the new opportunities that the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act provides for businesses, business leaders can ensure that our nation's workforce is highly skilled and competitive. Investing in America's entry-level workers is an investment in our nation's economic prosperity. It's that simple.

We look forward to hearing about your ideas and your innovative training solutions. Send them to AskAEFLA@ed.gov. Together, we can make upskilling everyone's business.

Thanks for sharing.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education and Tom Perez is U.S. Secretary of Labor.

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