Georgia’s public workforce system is intended to create pathways to economic opportunity for people facing high barriers to meaningful jobs. Funded primarily with federal dollars, the system serves 49,000 low-income Georgians who are veterans, returning citizens, youth who are not in school or working and public assistance recipients.
However, Georgia’s workforce system has over-promised and under-delivered on helping all participants get a good job while leaving millions of unspent dollars on the table in some cases. The workforce system has endured nearly half a century of reforms in programs such as the Manpower Training and Development Act of 1965, the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982, and currently the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA), all which are viewed as “rinse and repeat” efforts when examining outcomes.
Georgia can make a clean break from its past mistakes. The governor, the State Workforce Development Board, the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, the Department of Human Services and the state’s 19 Local Workforce Areas can reject the status quo and provide a clear path to economic security for low-income jobseekers by crafting a new state plan in 2020 that embraces the following four proposals:
1. Submit a Combined State Plan
WIOA requires each state to submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Labor that outlines the state’s four-year strategy for their workforce development system. States submit either a unified or combined state plan. A unified state plan, which Georgia is proposing to submit this year, must cover the six “core” federal programs authorized under WIOA: adult, dislocated worker, and youth programs under Title I; adult education programs under Title II; Wagner-Peyser Employment services programs under Title III; and vocational rehabilitation services under Title IV. A combined plan includes all six “core” federal programs required for the unified plan, but also adds at least one of eleven partner programs identified under WIOA, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs.
Since the passage of the WIOA in 2014, Georgia has not submitted a Combined State Plan to the federal Department of Labor. As a result, Georgia’s public workforce system misses out on key partnerships necessary to build seamless career pathways for job seekers with barriers to employment. There are 29 states that currently use combined plans, including Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. By submitting a Combined State Plan, Georgia leaders can ensure that a full suite of supportive services is available to low-income job seekers. Crafting a combined plan that includes TANF and SNAP E&T helps bridge low-income Georgians to economic security.
As the state moves towards implementing more work reporting requirements demands, a more holistic workforce development system is necessary. In 2020, childless adults who receive food assistance through SNAP in all Georgia counties will be required to find work in three months or less in order to continue receiving help with food. Additionally, the current proposal for Medicaid developed by the governor establishes additional work rules for participants. The federal administration has placed strong emphasis on work participation rates among TANF participants. Lastly, WIOA requires priority of service for public assistance recipients. Including SNAP E&T and TANF in a combined state plan as a core partner in Georgia’s workforce development system ensures these participants have multiple entry points to the training and employment services necessary to transition off SNAP and TANF and advance economically.
2. Establish Performance Targets That Improve Equity
In Georgia’s last plan update, the Office of Workforce Development was still collecting baseline data on participants in the areas of measurable skill gains, median wages, job placements and credential attainment rates. The new state plan should actually set performance targets for all core programs that take into account information about participants from youth and adult programs. This means the Office of Workforce Development will need to begin developing state-wide data-sharing agreements to collect information about participants through the state’s wage record database. Additionally, the state can develop targets using information from the Georgia AWARDS longitudinal data system.
Currently, Georgia has not established performance targets broken down by priority of service population. In order to ensure adults with high barriers to employment, such as veterans or people who were previously incarcerated, are adequately served it is key that the state describes how it will establish and monitor targets for these populations. Additionally, given disproportionate outcomes among people of color and women across multiple target categories such as median earnings and credential attainment rates, the plan should detail how the state and local workforce development boards will use disaggregated data to develop targeted strategies to close racial and gender disparities in employment and training.
3. Require Local Workforce Boards to Establish Youth Committees
Youth governance is key for achieving the goals of WIOA. WIOA requires that at least 75 percent of available statewide funds and 75 percent of funds available to local areas be spent on workforce services for out-of-school youth. This funding gives local communities dedicated resources to implement effective employment, education and youth development strategies for the most vulnerable young people.
Unlike WIOA’s predecessor (Workforce Investment Act), the current Act does not require local workforce boards to maintain youth councils. However, WIOA does allow local boards to establish standing youth committees. These committees are critical to directly link youth stakeholders and experts to decision-making about funding and resource allocation, the selection of eligible training providers, service implementation, performance measures and reporting.
As recommended by USDOL, standing youth committees should be comprised of members of the local workforce board, representatives from across the WIOA core programs; stakeholders from other youth-serving systems, child welfare and human services agencies, and K-12 and postsecondary education institutions; and leaders from business and industry. Without a youth council or standing committee, interventions will be fragmented and ineffective, squandering WIOA’s opportunities for cross-systems alignment that support education and training.
4. Make Job Quality A Priority
Georgia’s WIOA plan lacks a framework for job quality, but Georgia can leverage WIOA to improve the quality of frontline jobs. Many WIOA participants are placed in low-wage jobs with no benefits, no paid leave and unpredictable scheduling practices. This leads to high turnover, which hits the pockets of workers and employers. Georgia should use this WIOA plan to give incentives to connect job seekers to high-road employers.
Recognizing that people with lower skill levels are typically trained for frontline jobs, Georgia’s plan can work toward improving the quality of these jobs by targeting work-based training grants to employers with high-road strategies that improve wages, benefits, scheduling and other factors. Women and people of color also make up the majority of youth and adults served in Georgia’s WIOA system, so an emphasis on job quality in the state plan can help address racial and gender disparities in accessing work that offers economic mobility.
WIOA allows states to establish factors to be used in selecting employers for on-the-job training (OJT) grants. Similarly, the law allows local workforce boards to establish criteria for employers to receive grants for Incumbent Worker Training (IWT). We urge Georgia to include in the state plan specific job quality criteria for determining employer eligibility for OJT reimbursements and IWT grants. Such criteria should give priority to work-based training in job placements with employers who:
- Offer livable wages
- Invest in and support their employees’ ongoing training and advancement, such as connecting front-line workers to apprenticeships and on-the-job training
- Provide paid sick, medical and family leave
- Offer adequate hours and predictable schedules that enable workers to meet their family caregiving and other commitments
Georgia’s state plan is available for review and public comment until February 17, 2020 at www.tcsg.edu/worksource. It is imperative that the general public and stakeholders provide as much input as possible to make sure the next version of Georgia’s public workforce system is the best version yet. If these four improvements are reflected in the state’s 2020 plan, Georgia can improve the lives of countless low-income individuals and families and emerge as a leading state in promoting economic mobility in workforce development.