You might have missed this news, since it was barely covered in the mainstream press, but the U.S. Congress actually DID do something of importance to young people before taking its summer recess. In late July, it passed and President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the first revitalization of the public workforce system since 1998–yes, over fifteen years!
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act matters to adolescents and young adults as it positions public workforce system leaders and workforce service providers to better support youth at greatest risk of failure to obtain jobs and enter career pathways. Soon, local workforce authorities receiving WIOA formula grant funds will be required to spend at least 75 percent of those funds on out-of-school youth, compared to just 30 percent under the WIOA predecessor law, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).
WIOA also changes youth eligibility requirements by establishing separate criteria for out-of-school and in-school youth, including removing income eligibility requirements for most out-of-school youth and raising the eligible age for such youth to 16 through 24. In-school youth age eligibility continues to be ages 14-21.
Also, WIOA places a new priority on work-based learning by providing that at least 20 percent of local youth formula funds be used for work experiences such as summer jobs, pre-apprenticeship training, on-the-job training and internships that have academic and occupational education as a component.
WIOA links youth workforce services to the attainment of secondary school diplomas, entry into postsecondary education and career readiness, and to the attainment of postsecondary credentials aligned with in-demand industry sectors or occupations. Additional allowable activities include financial literacy education and entrepreneurial skills training.
Also, under the new law, youth with disabilities will receive extensive pre-employment transition services so they can successfully obtain competitive integrated employment. And WIOA reauthorizes and enhances two workforce programs of particular importance to marginalized youth– Job Corps and YouthBuild. The new law preserves a feature of the predecessor WIA in that pregnant and parenting youth are specifically identified as a subpopulation of both out-of-school youth and in-school youth.
Enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, as well as the Obama Administration’s recent release of Ready to Work, a report and recommendations for strengthening federal job training programs, ensures that there will be considerable policy implementation activity bubbling at the state and local levels of government in the next months and years. Assuredly, opportunities will arise for organizations and individuals that support youth, including adolescent sexual and reproductive health professionals, to weigh-in as their public workforce systems and funded providers adjust to the new rules of the road.
I have uncovered a few informational resources to get you prepped for local action. First, I draw your attention to What Works in Job Training: A Synthesis of the Evidence, which the Obama Administration released as part of its Ready to Work initiative. This publication includes a most helpful chapter summarizing the evidence on the effectiveness of job training programs for youth. What has been found to work includes: early exposure to career and higher education information and opportunities; work experiences for youth still in school; occupation- and industry-based training programs, and comprehensive and integrated models that combine education, occupational skills, and support services.
Another resource to check out is Mentoring Youth and Young Parents: A Guidebook for Programs Helping Youth and Young Parents Navigate a Pathway to Self-Sufficiency. This publication was developed to support the Young Parents Demonstration project, a U.S. Department of Labor-funded initiative in the early 2010s. The publication includes learnings from the project grantees.
And then to go back a bit in time to 2001 is Leveraging Youth Employment Systems to Prevent Unintended Pregnancy, which presents the results of a nationwide survey of youth employment programs. That survey showed that most youth employment programs view unintended pregnancy and childbearing as significant barriers for program participants to successful program completion and transition to the labor force. The study also reviews some innovative and promising pregnancy prevention programs that have been set up by youth employment programs, including referral arrangements, educational workshops, and counseling sessions.
So, now armed with this heads-up that the workforce development kettle will certainly be simmering again, and presented with some resources for your follow-up, my questions to adolescent sexual and reproductive health providers are:
- Do you know which agencies and organizations in your community are the primary providers of workforce services to youth and young adults?
- Do you have relationships with these organizations? If so, how are you working together?
- What adolescent sexual and reproductive health information and services could you bring to youth being served through workforce programs?
- What will you do to become part of the youth workforce policy implementation and service delivery conversation?
Bob Reeg is the Program Development and Public Policy Consultant at Healthy Teen Network.