Published on 2016/01/19

WIOA: A New Approach to Workforce Development

The EvoLLLution | WIOA: A New Approach to Workforce Development
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act changes the focus of workforce investment from simply providing programs to facilitating employment-centered outcomes for students.

The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 was replaced and updated with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA). There are several key objectives of the new act to improve upon the work already accomplished through WIA. The new emphasis is on Priority Industry Sectors that offer sustainable employment at a living wage in industries that are growing, using competency models for building of curriculum and content contextualized to the specific industry sector, and employer engagement to ensure successful outcomes.

Here are some of the salient features of the WIOA Regulations regarding Workforce Development:

1. Cohort Training

Various studies and research reports about education have established that learning is best achieved when students learn together in a group. WIOA emphasizes this factor in its funding guidelines. It also builds on the model of training and education already in place with workshops and extended programs: the workshops (either in-person, hybrid or online) can be completed without a cohort but once the candidate is in a program of extended duration, the student must move through in a cohort.

2. Contextualized Learning

The focus of Workforce Development is the end result –a gainfully employed citizenry in sustainable careers with real job skills. To create lasting workplace competencies, WIOA stresses the need for all content and curriculum to feature exercises, tests, readings, assignments and assessments to be drawn from real-life examples of the actual workplace context in which the learning will be applied. This applies to both the workshops and the cohort training.

3. Industry Sector

Another important feature of WIOA is its emphasis on driving workforce development efforts in specific (and desirable) industry sectors. Sectors that show competitive wages, industry-recognized certifications, college credit programs leading to degrees, and regional economic growth are targeted with Department of Labor data and other sources.

4. Employer Engagement

One of the most challenging aspects of workforce development has been the level of involvement and commitment on the part of employers. The typical workforce training under WIA would result in a candidate with freshly minted workplace skills and competencies, a resume and guidelines for a job search, but few leads. The new WIOA regulations stipulate employer engagement at three levels:

  1. Advisory Boards: Employers who are involved in curriculum and content development will have a seat at the table from the start. Job mapping, input into course and workshop content and even a stake in providing qualified employee candidates means they have “skin in the game” from the start.
  2. Mock Interviews, Site Visits and Guest Lectures: The involvement goes beyond planning and extends into the classroom itself. Employers who are engaged by volunteering staff time to help in job readiness activities get to see the candidates before they are finished with the program and the candidates continue to be enriched with real-world context.
  3. Internships and Externships: Another important aspect of a successful workforce development program is the real life experience that can only be obtained “on-the-job.” This final feature of employer engagement is perhaps the most difficult, but in many instances, the employer does not pay for the internship. The intern’s compensation is covered either by public or private foundation grants, another aspect of WIOA that elevates workforce development from a public works project to a program resulting in true, regional economic development.

Four such examples of Workforce Development Programs ongoing at the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District that demonstrate these principles are:

Silicon Valley Engineering Tech Pathways (2015)

The California Career Pathways Trust ($500 million in two separate installments) awarded a $13.1 million grant to the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District in June 2015 and spans a four-year period. The Grant features many of the new WIOA requirements for STEM education.

The District has built a consortium consisting of nine community colleges, eight K-12 and alternative schools, three California State Universities, three regional Workforce Development Boards, and 25 employers including three famous National Labs.

PG&E PowerPathway™ Program (2000 – 2015)

This has been a successful program for many years and is often cited as a paradigm of effective workforce development due to its creative and innovative development and execution along the lines of the WIOA guidelines now in effect. A recent graduate (2013) was honored at the White House, and in 2015 the Vice President spoke at a PG&E Service Yard about the success of this program. From the 2015 two-month program that ended in June, 60 percent of the candidates completing the program were employed within sixty days of graduation.

Certified Nursing Assistant Program at Evergreen Valley College (2015)

The San Jose program funded by the McKinsey Social Initiative is called “Generation” and builds on the success of similar programs in Wilmington, Delaware and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The San Jose Program helped its fourteen graduates (September, 2015) gain needed skills and certification and all are currently employed.

2015 -2016 Sector Pathways (San Jose) (2015-2016)

The Workforce Institute has developed six Industry Sector Pathway Workforce Development Programs for the Workforce Development Board, work2future, in San Jose. They feature contextualized workshops and cohort training in non-credit courses, student learning outcomes (SLO) tied to workplace competencies, employer engagement and public funding.

So far in 2015, three adult cohorts have completed their first run, with nearly forty candidates successfully completing their training in late November 2015 in Project Management for IT, Hospitality and Advanced Manufacturing. Candidates are now engaged in seeking internships and/or interviewing with local employers.


The WIA (1998) was the federal government’s groundbreaking attempt (during a period of economic prosperity and growth) to address pockets of economic stagnation by focusing on the employability of certain members of the local and/or regional community: long-term unemployed adults as a result of displacement and youth who are “at risk” because they lack employable skills and/or have specific barriers to employment. When research showed that many of the programs under WIA were training people but they were having trouble finding work, the WIOA Act (2014) came along to being “force” training providers to focus on not just the Learning Outcomes but also Employment Outcomes. In other words, the question, “Did we succeed?” now refers to employment.

In the fall of 2015, the Workforce Institute of the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District launched three adult cohort programs with a total enrollment of 40 candidates who are now completing their programs and getting ready to earn their certificates. The Workforce Development Board of San Jose is busy lining up internships and interviews, having brought the influence of City Hall along with various large and small employers to the table. We are beginning to gather success stories around interviewing, internships and employment. We are scheduled to launch 6 more adult programs in January and 4 youth programs as well. And since we are only one of half a dozen training providers in here in San Jose, perhaps more than 200 candidates will find employment in the spring of 2016.

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The US Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Association (ETA) provides significant resources and guidelines for building curriculum and content in specific industry sectors using the regulatory guidelines from WIOA. More information can be found at

For specific information on the ETA Competency Models for WIOA approved training and education programs, visit

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Readers Comments

Carol Fuller 2016/01/19 at 9:44 am

I think this really fits with the more holistic approach to education that so many people and institutions are trying to foster. We’re starting to recognize that we can’t address only one step of the education and employment process and expect the results we want to see. We need to be thinking about every step of the way.

    Jeff Pallin 2016/01/20 at 7:05 pm


    That’s a very practical and current insight – nowadays everyone is talking about pathways, from the K-12 districts through the community colleges and trades into 4 year degree programs, internships, apprenticeships and employment. Starting with the end in mind makes the curriculum design more effective.

    Jeff Pallin

Taylor Shelton 2016/01/19 at 11:22 am

We have long been in need of some big changes to the way that internships are run, and hopefully getting employers involved from the get-go will help to make some quick progress in that area. They can definitely be important training and job-search tools, but we need to create a more equitable system for administering them.

    Jeff Pallin 2016/01/20 at 7:02 pm


    The challenge still remains to get the employer engaged at the beginning. We have several initiatives here in San Jose and Silicon Valley and they all require employers willing to “put skin in the game.” That happens very slowly.

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