By: Jeff Marcell, Senior Partner, TIP Strategies

Image Credit: Workforce 2011 Job Fair at Blaisdell Center by Daniel Ramirez via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The release of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) report, Shifting Workforce Development into High Gear, signals significant changes ahead for workforce development activities. The “shift” the report refers to will be seen in full when the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) takes effect in July 2015. I am proud to say that I worked closely with the Workforce Development Council (WDC) of Seattle and King County when I led the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County before joining TIP Strategies. Our collaborative effort was included as a case study in the IEDC report, along with several other best practice examples.

As an Executive Committee member of the Seattle WDC, I had the honor of representing the organization at the National Association of Workforce Boards’ (NAWB) annual meeting in Washington DC in March of this year. The four-day conference was held at the same time as the IEDC Federal Economic Development Forum a few miles away. The NAWB saw record attendance, a tribute to the speakers (national experts and leaders in the field of workforce development) and an indication of the interest in hearing more about WIOA.

This is an exciting time for workforce development professionals because they have been seeking a reauthorized national workforce law to replace the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998. However, it is also a time of uncertainty. Now, there is greater pressure to perform at a more advanced level than ever before.

It is already clear that the new law will drive a cultural shift at workforce development organizations across the country. The law will require Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) to approach their work as an integral part of a larger economic system that includes the entire education system (early childcare through higher education institutions), transportation, and other areas. WIOA will require WIBs to increase their scope of “customers” to include not just job seekers but employers as well. They will have to identify, build, and maintain a larger network of relationships.

WIOA will require WIBs to:

  • Be data driven and prepared to track and report on their work with increased specificity.
  • Consolidate with other WIBs, when appropriate, to serve local economies rather than political boundaries.
  • Understand industry sectors in their local economies and establish strategies to serve them.
  • Engage other organizations and reconfigure their boards to become more inclusive.
  • Coordinate with existing community programs including working with local economic development efforts.
  • Diligently identify their communities’ specific needs.

One message was clear at the conference: WIBs shouldn’t delay in implementing as much of the new law as possible. It was also made clear that WIOA isn’t just a repackaged WIA; the new law features significant changes, including new partnerships at the federal level (such as the Department of Labor working more closely with other federal agencies like the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services).

Secretary of Labor Tomas Perez was the center of attention at the NAWB conference, and he conveyed enthusiasm for the new law and its impact. Perez emphasized that the aim of the law is to scale the workforce development system by building partnerships—to serve more people and businesses through collaboration. He also stressed that the workforce development system needs to be driven by demand and acknowledge multiple paths to prosperity for young people, from 4-year colleges to 2-year degree and certificate programs.

Under this new law, WIBs have a lot to prove and must create a larger impact than ever before. The ultimate goal is to improve the workforce development system throughout the country, not simply to implement individual workforce development programs. WIBs will have to understand the needs of businesses. To succeed, they’ll have to develop good working relationships with business leaders. This is one area where economic development professionals can help.

If you are an economic development practitioner who hasn’t engaged your local workforce board, I strongly encourage you to offer them your assistance. Economic Development Practitioners know how businesses function and what they need. They have established relationships, and they know what drives the local economy. These are all things WIBs will need to understand under WIOA. On the flip side, Workforce Boards provide a connection to a business resource, one that is arguably more valuable than any other: the talent pipeline. Collaboration will have multiple benefits for both economic and workforce developers, not the least of which will be the unification of efforts to reach out to local businesses.

To learn more about WIOA, reach out to your area Workforce Investment Board and visit the WIOA resource website. I welcome the opportunity to discuss WIOA and alignment of workforce development and economic development with you at any time. Feel free to reach me at