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Workforce legislation may increase Georgia's economic opportunity
Melissa Johnson
Melissa Johnson

The state is working on a new plan to better leverage federal resources to provide training and work support for Georgians and there is room for improvement in the draft it recently published.

The plan is required by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014. The legislation and draft plan offer many opportunities for the state to leverage federal resources to increase economic security for its citizens. The final plan isn’t due until March 1, 2016, so Georgia officials still have time to do more with the plan to increase economic opportunity.

The federal update to the nation’s primary workforce legislation is the first since the 1998 Workforce Investment Act. That established a system of one-stop career centers to provide access to training and employment services for workers. Those include dislocated, young and low-income workers.

The 2014 legislation prioritizes services for the most-vulnerable workers, including recipients of public assistance, low-income people and people with deficiencies in basic skills. Georgia can use the opening provided by the new legislation to better help low-income workers achieve long-term economic security.

Maximize training options. The federal legislation pivots away from the work-first orientation of prior initiatives and opens up many more training opportunities to match a knowledge-based labor market. One opportunity for Georgia to boost training efforts is to encourage communities to blend available individual training account money and on-the-job training when assisting hard-to-serve clients.

Individual training accounts are vouchers given to clients for use at eligible providers. Combining individual training account funds and on-the-job training can help workforce clients increase chances of success by reinforcing classroom-based learning with practical job skills.

Integrate career pathways and private sector partnerships into one initiative. The federal legislation requires local workforce boards to develop and implement career pathways and private-sector partnerships. Career pathways are a series of connected education and training strategies and support services that help people secure industry-relevant certification, obtain employment and advance to higher levels of future education and employment in a given area.

Integrating career pathways with private-sector partnerships creates a formal commitment to working with employers and industry groups to accurately determine education and training needs. Integration also helps ensure private-sector partnerships include commitments to enhance worker and educational skills over time.

Expand access to support services. The federal legislation explicitly allows local workforce-development boards to provide support services and need-based payments to help people to go about their lives while they receive training. Help with child care, transportation and housing is crucial to a person’s ability to participate in training.

Georgia can combine state and federal resources to provide added support services so more people can participate in training. The state can also provide technical assistance to communities to combine various federal funding sources for support services and optimizing their delivery. This could include providing child care at certain hours or particular forms of transportation assistance.

Provide guidance to improve services for youth. The federal legislation requires significant changes to youth services, including a measure to serve more out-of-school youth ages 16 to 24. Local workforce-development boards need to plan strategically plan to get this right.

The state can provide technical assistance to local workforce-development boards on the best ways to leverage federal resources to build a comprehensive system that effectively serves out-of-school young people. Georgia’s plan mentions a webinar for local workforce development boards concerning youth programs. This webinar and other technical assistance should provide opportunities for communities with high-functioning youth services to provide advice and examples to ones with less advanced services.
Georgia officials should seize these opportunities as it works toward its March deadline.

Johnson is a policy analyst for the Georgia Budget and Policy Insitute, which describes itself as an independent think tank that analyzes budget and tax policies and aims to inspire responsible decision-making.

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