In July, amidst unprecedented gridlock and dysfunction in Congress, lawmakers passed with broad bipartisan support the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), work force development legislation to reauthorize and reform the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The legislation may benefit roofing industry employers and workers, and as the law is implemented during the coming years, NRCA will explore new methods of helping roofing industry employers address their work force development needs.
The WIA originally was enacted in 1998 to establish programs designed to help displaced workers develop employment skills and find jobs.
The law was designed to consolidate what at the time was a disparate array of state and local entities involved in work force issues: unemployment offices, job listing centers, skills training programs and welfare agencies. After a Republican Congress passed and President Clinton signed the landmark welfare reform act in 1996 that linked welfare benefits to job training for the first time, lawmakers turned a critical eye toward existing government work force-related programs and found them largely disconnected from existing labor markets.
The 1998 law sought to make the state and local programs more effective for connecting unemployed workers with job opportunities. Generally, the law prioritized the short-term goal of finding workers immediate employment over the long-term objective of providing more in-depth training for jobs and career development that aligned with emerging labor needs. Congress made modest changes to the law in 2003 but generally ignored the issue during the past decade.
The WIOA enacted this summer is designed to reform the entire work force development system to make it more effective and efficient. It eliminates many bureaucratic hurdles and provides more opportunities for employers to become involved in program development. The WIOA eliminates 15 of the 47 existing federal work force-related programs, applies uniform outcome metrics to the remaining programs and provides a larger role for local work force development boards.
After passing the Senate with a 95-3 vote in late June, the WIOA was approved by the House with a 415-6 vote July 9. Once fully implemented, it should provide opportunities to develop programs to attract more and better skilled workers to the roofing industry, a critical interest of NRCA members.
The new law continues to provide federal funding for a state-based work force development system that gives priority to veterans and low-income trainees but is open to anyone in the U.S. seeking job-based skills training. The WIOA authorizes $9.5 billion in funding for fiscal year 2015 of which $2.8 billion will fund training available to a broad array of U.S. workers. Authorized funding will modestly increase annually through 2020.
Among the new law's primary goals is to get employers and associations such as NRCA to become more actively involved in job training program development. It also reforms the system to promote training for existing in-demand jobs more aligned with business needs.
Improvements mandated by the new law include streamlining state and local work force bureaucracies, which have become notoriously inefficient, according to critics of existing programs. It provides substantial cuts in the sizes of state and local work force development boards, more meaningful standardized metrics and increased flexibility within the system. The law also encourages local authorities to give priority consideration to programs that prepare trainees for industry-recognized credentials.
Of all the improvements mandated in the law, perhaps the most significant for employers are enhanced incentives to participate in designing and providing job-based training. This includes new opportunities for employers to offer training programs, be reimbursed for training already provided, partner with institutions of higher learning to make training more relevant and effective, and serve in more meaningful and constructive ways on state and local boards that plan and oversee training programs. The major thrust of the reforms is to increase employer engagement to ensure an effective and up-to-date work force development system.
In short, the law offers various ways for employers and associations to be more actively engaged in the work force development process. Exactly how effective these reforms will be remains to be seen. But the reforms are ambitious and designed to transform a system currently seen as inefficient.
As the WIOA law is implemented, NRCA will be working to take advantage of new opportunities for the roofing industry to address its work force development needs.
Duane L. Musser is NRCA's vice president of government relations.