As we navigate through the 21st-century job market, the phrase “workforce development” has become a rallying cry for both businesses and employees. As the linchpin of a thriving economy, a skilled and educated workforce is indispensable. But to bridge the gap between what the industry needs and what the workforce has to offer, strategic investments in workforce development are key. In this article, we’ll explore the urgency of workforce development, the current state of federal funding, and the need to revamp strategies in this field.
The Imperative of Workforce Development
The U.S. currently records the highest ever job vacancy rate, approximately twice the unemployment rate at its peak. A significant reason for this is the skills gap: many American workers don’t have the high-level skills required for the vacant jobs, yet are reluctant to settle for low-paying jobs.
This problem is particularly acute for those who do not have college degrees, thus the need for alternative forms of education and job training funded by federal money. Despite the controversy surrounding federal job training programs, millions of Americans, particularly low-income workers in low-wage jobs, stand to benefit from additional skills training.
The Present Scenario: Underfunding and Underperformance
Despite the need, federal public funding for workforce training in the U.S. is woefully low compared to other industrialized nations and relative to past decades in the U.S. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which administers billions of dollars to states and local workforce boards for training and workforce services, receives minimal support, leading to an ongoing underinvestment in these crucial programs.
Consequently, the effectiveness of job training suffers. With an average funding of just over $2,200 per trainee from the WIOA, many workers who complete WIOA services and training continue to have low annual earnings. On the flip side, programs that require larger spending investments often yield higher earnings gains.
A Path Forward: Recommendations for Future Workforce Development
Given the present circumstances, it’s time we recalibrated our approach to workforce development. Here are some strategies for getting the most out of our workforce development programs:
- Scale up Effective Programs: Increase funding for effective sector partnerships that help train participants for good jobs. More research and rigorous evaluation into what makes these programs effective can lead to their successful replication.
- Expand Work-Based Learning: Support and evaluate state-led efforts to expand work-based learning models like apprenticeship and incumbent worker training.
- Improve Career Guidance and Support Services: Allocate more funds for career guidance and other support services for trainees at American Job Centers and other training providers like community colleges.
- Improve Labor Market Data: Improve data on training providers, training outcomes, and labor market skill needs to help trainees choose effective programs and demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of individual programs.
- Expand Pell Coverage: Support the passing of “short-term Pell” to expand Pell coverage to shorter certificate and some not-for-credit programs, while safeguarding workers from ineffective programs.
In conclusion, workforce development, underpinned by strategic funding and well-targeted programs, can go a long way in enhancing the skills of the American workforce. While increasing funding is important, it’s equally crucial to ensure that the funds are spent on cost-effective programs. By doing so, we can help ensure a more competitive, skilled, and versatile workforce ready to meet the challenges of the 21st-century job market.