WIOA Guidance: You Can Use Part of Your WIOA Funds for Pre-Employment Training

How Assumptions Lead to Potential Failure for Young Workers

It’s fair to say that many employers who hire young workers say that they do not have the work ethic, or soft skills, they need to do their jobs well. This is an ongoing and universal problem, they say. How do we bridge the gap between youths who lack these skills and employers who need them?

Workforce providers need to be innovative and flexible in meeting the needs of the businesses and organizations who look to them for opportunities to work successfully with youth. New guidance released by the U.S. Department of Labor for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) may offer a solution.

What Does the Law Say?

Did you know that you have some flexibility when it comes to how you allocate the portion of Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds dedicated to out-of-school youth (OSY)? Most agencies know that 75 percent of WIOA funds must be spent on youth endeavors and initiatives, and another 20 percent of that allocation, on work-based learning (WBL), or more formally, the Work Experience Expenditure Requirement (WEER).
But what does that mean? More than just subsidizing wages, it turns out.

The Work Experience Expenditure Requirement details the kinds of WBL that are acceptable as “paid and unpaid work experiences”:

  • Summer employment
  • Pre-apprenticeship programs
  • Internships and job shadowing
  • On-the-job training (OJT) opportunities

While summer employment, internships, job shadowing and OJT are relatively self-explanatory, what does “pre-apprenticeship programs” mean? The skills taught in such programs are truly the foundation of what makes a potential worker into a success.

A common misunderstanding is that this allocation must be used only for wage support. Many agencies don’t know that, according to guidance from the USDOL, the 20 percent of funds that go toward meeting the WEER can actually be used for job success training, like learning the soft skills that must complement specific job knowledge.

What Is the Solution?

The field of training for basic soft skills, for the populations targeted in WIOA, is a relatively new one. Employers who hire entry-level workers often cite that their new employees can sometimes struggle with what many experienced workers take for granted: Coming to work every day on time; being open to learning new things in perhaps a new way; understanding hierarchies and supervision; and providing good customer service.

Many curricula aimed at teaching soft skills are often geared toward higher-order skills like critical thinking, problem-solving or conflict resolution. While there is certainly a need for these skills, hard-to-employ populations like disabled veterans, ex-offenders or youth often struggle with more basic needs – not just how to work successfully, but how to work at all.

One such program, Bring Your ‘A’ Game to Work, specifically focuses on these basic skills. The training, which is offered to workforce centers, school districts, community colleges, vocational and career training centers, and other partners who work with youth or other beginning workers, addresses these foundational workforce abilities.

“As we work to expand the programming and ingrain its principles into our culture, we are noticing positive changes,” said Jean Roberts of the Wayne County Schools Career Center in Smithville, Ohio. “Students are showing a better understanding of work ethic and how it manifests itself in the workplace.”
Implementing any legislation, much less law that is as involved as WIOA is, is sometimes a slow learning process. As workforce and training agencies advance through implementation, most likely experiencing some amount of growing pain, it is important to clarify rules that can both benefit workers and their potential employers. Agencies might want to consider addressing the soft skills gap between employers and potential hires, and look to implement pre-employment training for WEER.

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