The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration just released official guidance for states, local areas, and youth service providers for implementing the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) youth activities. Last summer, Congress passed WIOA by a vast bipartisan majority in both houses, and President Obama signed the bill into law on July 22. WIOA replaces the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 and forms the backbone of our country’s workforce system.
Throughout 2015, the Department will issue a series of operational guidance letters on WIOA implementation and the transition to the new statutory requirements. The Department plans to issue final WIOA rules in 2016.
Just like with WIA, the Department will distribute WIOA funds, including those for youth activities, to state workforce organizations based on need as calculated by formulas in the legislation. States will then distribute these funds to local workforce areas. In most cases, local areas contract with community-based youth-serving organizations to deliver youth workforce services.
The Department will begin funding WIOA operational programming on July 1, but plans to issue transitional planning funds to states by April 1 or soon thereafter.
According to the Department’s guidance, WIOA’s youth vision involves an integrated youth service-delivery system, “beginning with career exploration and guidance, continued support for educational attainment, opportunities for skills training in in-demand industries and occupations, such as pre-apprenticeships or internships, and culminating with a good job along a career pathway, enrollment in post-secondary education, or a Registered Apprenticeship.”
One of the most significant changes WIOA brings is a shift in focus from in-school youth to out-of-school youth. The new legislation requires a minimum of 75% of WIOA youth funds to be spent on out-of-school youth, a large increase from WIA’s 30% out-of-school minimum. For states, the 75% minimum is calculated after subtracting funds not spent on direct services to youth. For local areas, the minimum is based on funds remaining after administrative costs. This shift will mean a national refocusing of resources on the estimated six million 16- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. who are unemployed and not in school.
According to WIOA eligibility rules, an out-of-school youth is a) not in school, b) between 16 and 24 years old at enrollment, and c) at least one of the following: a school dropout; a high school graduate who is low income and basic skills deficient or an English language learner; involved in the juvenile justice or adult corrections systems; homeless, runaway, in or aged out of foster care, eligible for Chafee Foster Care Independence funds, or in an out-of-home placement; pregnant or parenting; an individual with a disability; or a low-income individual who requires additional assistance to complete education or attain employment.
In-school youth are eligible if they are a) attending school, b) between 14- and 21-years-old at enrollment, c) low income, and d) at least one of the following: basic skills deficient; an English language learner; an offender; homeless, runaway, or in or aged out of foster care; pregnant or parenting; an individual with a disability; or an individual who requires additional assistance to complete education or attain employment.
In preparing for this population shift, states and local areas will need to focus on recruiting additional out-of-school youth for their WIOA programs. Among other strategies, the Department’s guidance recommends more intensive partnerships with school districts, Temporary Assistance for Needy Family programs, and community-based organizations.
Another change includes a 20% spending minimum for youth work experiences, including summer and year-round employment opportunities, pre-apprenticeship, internships and job shadowing, and on-the-job training. This 20% minimum applies for the total of all youth activities spending for both in- and out-of-school youth and may include costs for youth wages, as well as work experience program staffing and management costs.
The Department’s guidance letter outlines recommendations on the formation of optional youth standing committees, as opposed to WIA’s required Youth Councils. The guidance also details how states and local areas can plan for scaling up to the 75% out-of-school youth spending minimum, as well as how to handle current WIA-enrolled youth and unspent WIA funds during the transition.
Finally, the Department’s guidance includes a list of additional resources and short case studies of six local workforce investment areas that are already meeting or exceeding the 75% out-of-school spending minimum.