Tuesday, August 26, 2014

WIOA Brings a Wave of Improvements for Out-of-School Youth

Every generation thinks that they had it tough when they were young. As someone who grew up BG (Before Google), I can recall the days when there was one phone in the house, you went to the library to do research, and you typed papers because computers were something that were more sci-fi than reality. And, of course, everyone had a summer or afterschool job.

Today’s youth face different and, many times, greater challenges. Not a day goes by when there isn't an article about a family who has been impacted by the recession. But, the recession has hurt youth even more than adults. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teen employment has fallen from 50 percent in 1978 to 44% in 2011 to just 25.8 percent today.  

Today’s Millennials have now seen double-digit unemployment rates for over 70 consecutive months. The unemployment rate among all teens in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas nearly doubledAnd, it is an even bigger problem for young people of color. Young Black and Latino males are much less likely to be employed than their white counterparts. Given the fact that many youth work to contribute to rent and basic family expenses, the unemployment rate is devastating.

Not only is this a social and moral issue, it is an economic issue. Research shows that these losses are compounded as lack of work experience leads to additional cost in terms of lower productivity, lower wages and lower employment rates later on in a young person’s career. By one estimate, total annual cost of severely high unemployment rates for 18- to 34-year-olds on the federal and state governments is almost $8.9 billion in terms of lost wages and higher public benefits.

We can’t afford to let an entire generation of young people languish in the labor market. Earlier this summer, the President signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law. WIOA recognizes that the unique needs of disadvantaged youth and support efforts to prepare youth and young adults for success in the today’s labor market.

In addition to supporting quality programming, increasing transparency, and measuring progress over time, the new law also:

·    Targets Limited Resources: Title I targets 75 percent of youth funds to provide services for out-of-school youth – a population that has been a challenge to serve.   

·    Simplifies eligibility: The legislation removes some of the cumbersome eligibility issues that can make it difficult to serve youth who are most in need.

·    Supports work-based learning: We know that hands on, experience-based learning makes a huge difference and WIOA requires that that 20% of the youth funding support work experiences.

While it is great to have new legislation, we have to do our part. We are entering into an era of unprecedented scrutiny and accountability and we have to perform. Now is the time to double down on recruitment and engagement efforts. Now is the time to measure return on investment of each of our programs to ensure maximum effectiveness. The work that we do is so very important. It will pay dividends in the future…stronger economy, safer communities, and healthier families.   

Bridget Brown is the Executive Director of the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP), an organization that advocates for the workforce industry and works to develop the professional capacity of workforce professionals seeking the highest standards of excellence in credentialing, applied learning opportunities, and cutting edge tools to excel in serving job seekers and business.  

We were thrilled to be joined by Bridget at our first Youth Workforce Leaders Academy (YWLA)* session on July 24th, where she demonstrated her 20+ years of experience to prepare our cohort of leaders for upcoming changes to local youth workforce programming as a result of the Workforce Investment Act’s reauthorization in July.

*This program is supported by a grant from the Greater Washington Workforce Development Collaborative, an initiative of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.

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