The role of the Federal government in local programs is often murky, but whether through funding or regulation, the sustainability of programs that strive to provide options for children of color, families in poverty and undereducated-underemployed young adults rely on the political will and support of members of Congress.
The Workforce Investment Act (WIA), originally passed in 1998, is set to expire in August and is the largest source of federal funding for workforce development. WIA created a nationwide system of one-stop career centers – intended to provide training and employment assistance for low-income adults and youth. Programs funded by WIA provide a wide range of services, including connecting workers with other education and training options to create multiple pathways to success.
Programs in Michigan that provide youth an opportunity to gain education and career skills focus on a group of youth that are ages 16-24, have little to no high school credits, and limited employability. These youth are often referred to as disconnected, undereducated/underemployed, and Opportunity Youth by the US Department of Labor. Community-based programs strive to build a career path for youth and emphasize obtaining a high school diploma, or GED, as a critical step on that path.
Education ReConnection, in Kalamazoo, is an example of a program in Michigan that has a primary goal of re-engaging disconnected youth through a WIA-funded program and leads to high school completion. The model is unique in that it provides access to education and workforce development programming targeted to disconnected youth and supports students with a mentoring program offered through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Education ReConnection is uniquely funded through the Kalamazoo RESA, foundation grants and WIA funding targeted for youth.
WIA reauthorization is also an opportunity to readdress the needs of the employment sectors in communities and ensure that employers have workers with the skills they need to succeed. Business Leaders for Michigan, a group of CEO’s of the state’s largest corporations, continue to argue for increased funding for higher education because they know we need a million more bachelor’s degree holders by 2025 – the year children entering kindergarten this fall will graduate. The training and education made available by WIA reauthorization will provide long-term economic growth for Michigan by maintaining programs that provide access to family-sustaining employment.
There are currently two WIA reauthorization bills available for review – but they do not support youth programs equally. One of the bills, HR 4297, combines funding for youth programs with adult and provides no requirements that states utilize the funds to support youth programs. The funding in jeopardy serves low-income and youth of color and is particularly critical when fewer than 20% of them are able to find summer employment and more than 50% drop out of high school. Youth focused programs strengthen the skills and abilities of youth necessary to succeed in local labor markets, lead to career opportunities capable of sustaining a family, and support growth of our current and future economy.
Overall, WIA reauthorization must:
▪ Support attainment of post-secondary degrees and career credentials;
▪ Align education, job training, and higher education to support career pathways;
▪ Maintain separate funding streams for youth programs.
For more information about WIA reauthorization, check out:
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
The National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC)
The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
The National Skills Coalition (NSC)