“One of the key differences between the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act is that it expands opportunity for job seekers and working adults so that they can expand their skills, improve their skills and get ahead, get on a pathway hopefully into the middle class.”
By Lauren Larson
Federal News Radio
On July 1st most provisions of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act took effect. That means broader and better access to education and work-based learning programs for low-income job seekers, Acting Assistant Secretary at the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education Johan Uvin told Federal News Radio's Agency of the Month program.
“This law places a great emphasis on individuals facing significant barriers to employment or advancement and from that perspective we will see more opportunities for many of our more vulnerable sub-populations in our country.”
There are 36-million adults in the civilian population age 16-65 who are considered low-skilled based on literacy Uvin said. That’s based on findings from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Factor in math skills and the number rises to 48-million. Of the 36-million, Uvin said 24-million are working and likely at more than one job.
“This new law puts all the agencies and all the programs together and says you have to create a unified strategy, you have to create a system that is well-coordinated and seamless; that is a very different set of expectations under this law than the expectations that existed under the Workforce Investment Act,” said Uvin. “I believe that both the individual and the employers will be the beneficiaries under that new level of alignment.”
Working closely with Labor and HHS agencies to implement the law
“We have chosen consensus-building as the way that we work together, so for every step that we need to take to ensure good implementation of this law we have worked together,” said Uvin. “A good illustration of this is we published a draft notice of proposed rule-making, every aspect of that proposed notice was actually done in collaboration with our colleagues at the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.”
Multiple award groups focus on key aspects of the law, said Uvin. Teams focus on items like performance issues and State planning provisions. He said the bi-weekly check-in point they have established for principals from the three agencies to come together and facilitate policy consensus-building have been a very effective workgroup structure.
The Innovation Opportunity Network is in the early stages now but will grow to support stakeholders at all levels with access to tools, resources and guidance to implement all aspects of the law. Some of the resources currently available include instructional videos, webinars, toolkits, guidance letters and blog posts. “As we move into full implementation,” Uvin said, “the network will diversify the type of technical assistance available to States and local entities with responsibilities for implementing this law.”
A call to all agencies
“We’ve realized that there is so much we can do in the federal community ourselves relative to the skills issue. One small step for example that our agency has taken, is that we have created a career center for our own employees. I’d like to call on all of our colleagues in the federal agency community, to really think about this issue of skills and particularly foundation skills, and how it may affect your employees, or perhaps even the employees of the contractors you are working with, and identify ways to support some opportunities for either employees or employees of contractors to improve their skills.”