The U.S. Department of Labor has launched a new campaign to dispel myths about the federal workforce development funding system—the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Modeled after the Obama-era slogan “Yes, we can” the Yes, WIOA Can! campaign was announced by the Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su earlier this month.
Signed into law in 2014, WIOA provides $3.6 billion annually to help job seekers access training and support to find employment. Eighty percent of WIOA funding is given directly to states who distribute the funds.
Rather than legislative chances, the Yes, WIOA Can! campaign aims to clarify how flexible WIOA funds can be under existing policies and how WIOA can be leveraged by states and local government, workforce boards, unions, employers, and community-based organizations to promote “innovation, equity, and job quality” across the U.S. workforce development system supported by WIOA.
Julie Su’s “Yes, WIOA Can!” Goals
In the Labor Department blog post announcing the campaign, Deputy Secretary Su underlined the importance of WIOA funding to actualize the Biden Administration's infrastructure implementation plan which is now supported by four key bills passed by Congress over the past two years: The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
But Su, who previously served as California's Labor Secretary under Governor Gavin Newsom, also acknowledged challenges across the WIOA system, particularly around racial equity. For example, Black participants in WIOA-funded programs secured jobs where they were paid less than their white counterparts.
“With historic investments in infrastructure, manufacturing and environmental justice, we have an incredible opportunity to create good, union jobs in communities that need them the most, all across America,” said Deputy Secretary Su in an email. “Our ‘Yes WIOA Can!’ Campaign prioritizes job quality and equitable access to good jobs for historically marginalized workers by unleashing the full power of the workforce system to meet this moment.”
Julie Su’s blog listed four goals focused on job quality and equity:
Build and invest in sector-based labor-management partnerships that result in effective training programs tied to quality jobs.
Integrate job quality and equity requirements in programs and grants, so resources target communities where workers face the most significant barriers to good jobs.
Provide access to supportive services like childcare, transportation and more, to enhance workers’ opportunities for growth and success.
Measure success not just by if a worker gets a job, but by whether the most vulnerable workers get good jobs.
The campaign will be comprised of a series of activities including:
Highlighting best practices that demonstrate what effective deployment of WIOA looks like.
Support the scaling of effective practices through language in funding opportunities.
Expanding resources offered through Workforce GPS, the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration’s technical assistance website.
Organizing webinars and improving on-the-ground support of WIOA grantees including support with compliance assistance.
The latest Biden Administration to improve job quality
Amid a tight labor market, a revitalized unionization movement, and cultural debates sparked by Quiet Quitting and the Great Resignation, job quality has become of heightened concern, particularly after the pandemic laid bare the plights faced by essential workers.
A 2019 study by Brookings Institution’s Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman found that 44 percent of U.S. workers earn wages below $10 per hour, more than half of which were a prime working age of 25-30, and most likely to be raising children. A separate Lumina Foundation study found that the same percent of working people in the U.S. report having a "good job," defined by personal satisfaction with various job characteristics.
In a keynote to the U.S. Conference of Mayors this January, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, former Boston mayor, launched the Good Jobs Initiative which facilitated collaborations across federal agencies to improve job quality.
This June, Secretary Walsh joined U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to publish job quality principles that helped define job quality across the government, and, in August, the Labor and Commerce Department released a job quality toolkit to help employers improve job quality.
The Deputy Secretary and Labor Department officials previewed the campaign at the National Association of State Workforce Agencies conference in Chicago this past August, and at an event this week in Washington, DC at the think-tank New America that focused on leveraging federal infrastructure investments to create quality jobs, Su shared two specific changes the campaign hopes to bring about.
The first was to encourage more WIOA-funded programs include job quality metrics when tracking outcomes, rather than just focusing on the number of individuals trained. The second was to dispel myths about what is possible within WIOA including whether WIOA-funded programs can include diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and track participant demographic metrics around race and gender.
Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg, who joined Su at New America, emphasized the importance of helping workforce stakeholders more efficiently use existing federal workforce investments. Job quality has long been part of the Transportation Department’s strategizing given the higher rate of unionized workers in the transportation industry, according to Trottenberg.
As states and cities begin preparing to use the nearly $4 trillion dollars of federal investments to revitalize U.S. infrastructure, Deputy Secretary Su and the Biden Administration hope the campaign’s encouragement and clarification around how WIOA can improve job quality and racial equity will result in more efficient utilization and better workforce development for the short and long-term.