Resource Post: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act State Plans

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) State Plans are now available to the general public on the Department of Education’s site. States submitted their four-year WIOA State Plans for Federal review and approval in early 2016. State Plans provide valuable information about the various investments, programs, and initiatives underway to serve our job seekers, students, and businesses across the country.

By taking the time to familiarize yourself with how WIOA is administered and its requirements in your local Workforce Development region you can gain a better understanding of labor market information and identify high growth industries and high demand jobs in your area.

The state plans are very long and dense, but you may find it helpful to learn about what your state plans to do with its mainstream workforce development programs over the next 4 years.

Higher has reviewed the state plans and identified three important sections of each plan that we’d encourage you to look at in order to learn about your local workforce area: Economic and Workforce Analysis, State Operating Systems, and the Strengths and Weaknesses of Workforce Development Activities. Consider working as a team to review the different sections of your state plan and then report your findings in your next employment staff meeting.

Each section can be found in the table of contents of each state plan. These three sections will help you improve your knowledge of your local labor market, the WIOA programs that exist in your area, and the current strengths and weaknesses of your area’s current mainstream workforce development activities. Here is a brief summary of these three sections:

  1. ECONOMIC AND WORKFORCE ANALYSIS*

This section is great to help job developers identify opportunities for strategic employer partnerships within the fastest growing industries. Employment staff can use labor market information and other data to respond to real world job shortages and local community needs. This section also highlights the number of jobs posted in each sector.

For example from January 1 to October 5, 2015 there were 842 job posting for Registered Nurses in the State of Hawaii. The State Plans then address which areas inside the state saw the largest job growth and those areas that posted the most jobs. The most in demand jobs and their average salary are laid out in this section. As you look at these reports pay attention to wage data to avoid pursuing limited career opportunities or partnerships with employers that may be in high growth industries, but offer low wages.

 The map above is from the North Carolina State plan and its lists the strongest industries in each region across the state and the aver number of people employed within each industry.

  1. STATE OPERATING SYSTEMS

This section describes each tool, program, and resource that each state has created and funneled WIOA money into. Here you will learn about all the core programs your state has, where the American Job Centers are located, and what resources are available through community colleges.

In looking at the plans, each state has very different names for their programs so we did not list any but please take note of this section to find the resources in your state. For example a job center in Colorado is called Colorado Works and in North Carolina its NC Works but each offers a different menu of services.

  1. THE STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES

In this section, each state was required to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each of their workforce development activities. In order to make the best use of federal money the states were asked to make a cohesive 4 year plan on how to utilize all their workforce programs and initiatives together so that a job seeker only has to go to one location to receive information about all services they need.

Workforce development staff will create individualized employment plans for job seekers and then enroll them in all necessary vocational training programs, apprenticeships, ESL courses, etc., that each person needs in order to find a job. This section also takes a look at the operating systems that are already in place and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Pay attention to strengths listed in your state plan to identify opportunities that your clients may be able to take advantage of. For example, many state plans emphasize the expanding role of apprenticeships, especially in non-traditional industries and occupations such as healthcare, IT, and green jobs. The weaknesses are important to note because this is where you will want to advocate for your clients. See what is lacking in the state plans in order to understand what challenges the mainstream system has identified that also might present difficulties for your clients.

We hope this information will allow you to better digest your state plan. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us at information@higheradvantage.org.

*Each state plan will have different headers/tiles for sections but the ones Higher used are the keywords found title and will be easy to find in the table of contents.

Workforce Collaboration Case Study: Connecting Refugees to WIOA-Funded Programs in Omaha

staff-photoLutheran Family Services of Nebraska’s Refugee Education & Employment Program (REEP) staff members have long been aware of resources available at the local American Job Centers nationwide. Many clients qualify for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funded programs, but until recently the process to fully participate in and benefit from these programs remained out of a reach.

During the past few years, the REEP team has focused on identifying and overcoming the barriers that prevent refugees from accessing WIOA-funded programs through a concerted effort to understand and collaborate with their local American Job Center (AJC).

Why Collaborate?

Brain waste, inaccessibility to higher skilled jobs, lack of transportation, language barriers, unfamiliarity with US workplace culture, and difficulty navigating assistance programs are all challenges faced by resettlement programs across the nation.  Another challenge for programs with limited resources is how they can best connect refugees to training that will put them on a career path that can take them beyond an initial job to pay the bills.

classroom-photoHow can refugee employment programs best help the young Iraqi engineer, who just arrived and expressed to his career counselor that his main desire is to finish his U.S. degree and specialize in robotics? Or the Afghan SIV recipient with a large family who needs a job while working towards U.S. certification in the IT field?  What about the Burmese client who worked for 10 years as a welder in Malaysia, but never got a certificate? How can he apply his skills here?

How can we help foreign-trained professionals and those with backgrounds in the trades discover career pathways that lead to fulfilling work that pays a living wage and capitalizes on their skills?

The mainstream workforce development system is often described as a highway with many off-ramps that job seekers can take to pursue their career goals, and its WIOA-funded programs in particular offer an abundance of opportunities and benefits.

Opportunities within the Mainstream Workforce Development System

WIOA-funded programs provide a variety of workforce development options designed to help individuals with barriers to employment receive training and certification in “H3 jobs” (high demand, high wage and high-skill). With some assistance, refugees with the right aptitudes and skill-sets can access these resources and obtain certifications that can increase their hourly wage by up to 30 to 40 percent.

career-pathwaysIn addition to training programs such as Registered Apprenticeships (RAs), On-the-job Training (OJT) and Individual Training Accounts (ITAs), WIOA-funded programs also provide additional resources that can offset some of the costs associated with starting a new job or career.

Some examples of supportive services include tools, work apparel, and other initial required items normally paid for by the employee through payroll deduction. Participants in WIOA-funded programs may also be eligible for transportation assistance in the form of gas vouchers, car registration fees, repairs or other transportation services.

In some cases REEP clients enrolled in WIOA-funded programs have also been eligible for emergency rental assistance or utility assistance. Eligibility for these temporary supports is determined on a case-by-case basis, and often are a one-time benefit. Tuition, books, and study related costs & supportive services are covered for those pursuing a certification or degree in high-demand careers.  In eligible cases, both WIOA & PELL funding are available.

Partnership between Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska and Heartland Workforce Solutions American Job Center

To capitalize on this amazing opportunity for newly arriving refugee populations, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska’s Refugee Education & Employment Program (REEP) began collaborating with a local American Job Center (AJC) operated by Heartland Workforce Solutions (HWS) in early 2013.

The first thing the REEP team did was set up an initial meeting to learn about the resources that the AJC offered and familiarize the AJC management with the LFS refugee resettlement program. Following the initial meeting, the REEP team provided an orientation for AJC frontline staff new to serving refugees. More meetings followed to discuss individual participants the REEP team would be bringing for enrollment and to set expectations for communication between the two organizations.

Because of the complexities involved in the AJC eligibility and enrollment process, refugee employment service providers cannot simply direct their clients to AJCs, cross their fingers, and hope for successful outcomes. Developing a clear understanding of the AJC process and setting clear expectations for communication between the two organizations was essential for the REEP team in order to ensure that they were providing adequate support to clients they would refer to the AJC.

Going through this process of mutual learning was critical in building trust and developing effective ways to collaborate, including working together to address barriers preventing LFS clients from accessing AJC resources.

Benefits of the Collaboration

Both the REEP program and the AJC benefited from this collaboration. The REEP program successfully enrolled 12 clients into WIOA-funded programs through the AJC. Three of these clients were enrolled in On-the-job Training, five clients received skills training, and 5 clients received other supportive services through the AJC.

refugee-at-workSeveral of these clients have been successful in retaining the high-paying jobs that they obtained through participating in these mainstream workforce development programs. Afghan SIV recipients, for example, proved to be a great fit for apprenticeships in the construction field because of their previous work experience with the U.S. military.

The AJC also experienced many benefits from this collaboration, including a link to a pre-screened and motivated talent pool that does not typically access mainstream workforce development services, ongoing wrap-around support from the REEP team for refugee participants, and higher success rates (successful outcomes for refugee clients were double that of the general population in the first two years of the collaboration).

Challenges and Collaborative Solutions

While much progress has been made in accessing WIOA-funded programs for refugees, this endeavor has not been without its challenges. Below is a summary of the five most significant challenges faced during this collaboration and the solutions that the REEP team and the AJC developed to overcome these barriers:

Challenge #1: WIOA program enrollment process delays: The WIOA program enrollment process has historically required a significant amount of time. The complexity and time demands inherent to the current enrollment process directly impacts the clients’ ability to take advantage of employment opportunities and fails to meet the staffing needs of employers offering “living wage jobs.”

Solution: Effective communication and collaboration between the REEP team and the AJC was the best strategy in overcoming these systemic barriers. REEP staff work with AJC staff to streamline the process and provide support where needed

Challenge #2: Scheduling Problems: Scheduling conflicts often resulted in significant delays between Orientation and completion of the TABE test (a math and literacy test participants must pass in many states to qualify for training programs). This was primarily due to the fact that both TABE tests and Orientations were only offered once a week and only during scheduled work hours. Even for the unemployed, the schedule was problematic because it conflicted with the beginning and ending of their children’s school day.

Solution: After the REEP team brought these issues to the attention of AJC management, they agreed to make adjustments to the schedule that resulted in adding more orientation options that could better accommodate the schedules of clients. The AJC also allowed for individual orientations or specially scheduled testing to meet the needs of clients.

Challenge #3: Selective Service Registration Eligibility Requirement: Selective Service registration requirement for males has often been a barrier even though most of the refugees enrolling in WIOA-funded programs are not required by to register since they arrived in the US after their 26th birthday. In order  to receive federal education and training assistance, males under 56 years of age are required to obtain a Status Information Letter from Selective Services verifying they are not required to register with the SSA. SSA processing and procedural complexity often results in significant delays in obtaining the requisite Status confirmation.

Solution: Collaborative efforts between the AJC and the REEP team helped reduce the impact of this issue. The AJC agreed to accept a copy of the Status Information Letter, along with the certified mail receipt from sending the Status Information Letter to SSA through certified mail in cases where participation could not move forward.

Challenge #4: Income Eligibility Problems: Verification of income can be a challenge even though the AJC and federal authorities accept that anyone receiving SNAP or food stamp benefits as meeting the qualification to receive WIOA benefits.  Problems can occur when the client presents DHHS verification documentation that is unfamiliar to WIOA staff and therefore may not be accepted as verification of income. A related issue is determining the actual start date for receipt of benefits. It is often not clear what date is to be used as the client’s application to WIOA date or what effect their post SNAP/TANF earning will have on their eligibility and enrollment delays exacerbate this problem.

Solution: Ongoing collaborative efforts of AJC staff and REEP program staff to mitigate response delays by key outside entities can help to reduce some of the delays in the overall verification process.

Challenge #5: Jobs obtained during the enrollment process: Jobs obtained prior to finishing enrollment can make clients ineligible for WIOA programs. Often during a protracted enrollment process clients are found to be ineligible if they receive a promotion or wage increase. Significant delays in enrollment processing can affect a client’s ability to meet regulatory compliance and ultimately impact their eligibility for needed resource assistance.

Solution: Close communication and cooperation between the AJC and the REEP team helped to mitigate the impact of enrollment processing delays and address this challenge.

Tips for Collaboration with AJCs

The LFS REEP team has learned a lot from their experience collaborating with an American Job Center, and suggests the following tips for refugee employment programs around the country who may be considering similar collaborations:

  • Always have a liaison or navigator who can dedicate time to cultivating the relationship with the AJC and provide support to refugees and AJC staff during the complicated enrollment process. This can be an employment team member, an intern, or a volunteer—anyone who can take the time to learn the process and provide the needed support.
  • Job Developers can play an important role in opening up On-the-job Training and Registered Apprenticeship opportunities for refugee clients by making employer partners aware of these federal programs and connecting them to appropriate staff at the AJC. The subsidies that employers can receive through these programs can serve as a great incentive for taking a chance on hiring a refugee.
  • Invest the time to become familiar with how WIOA is administered and its requirements in your local Workforce Development region through research and look at labor market information to identify the high demand jobs in your area.
  • Be prepared to articulate the benefits of working with refugees and also to provide ongoing support to mainstream workforce development partners, just as you would with employers.
  • Keep up with changes in WIOA policies and meet regularly with AJC leadership to share updates and address challenges.

Many thanks to the staff at Lutheran Family Services Nebraska (especially Ryan Overfield, Carol Tucker, and Rich Surber) as well as the staff at Heartland Workforce Solutions for contributing this case study!

Have you collaborated with an American Job Center or other mainstream workforce development partner in your area? Share your success story by emailing us at information@higheradvantage.org.

 

WIOA Focused Case Studies to be Released in December

Attention dedicated Higher blog readers. As you know, the month of December can be very slow in the employment world.  With all the big holidays, it’s the time of year when employers tend not to hire new staff since most managers take vacation. However, after this year’s summer bulge, you may be left with lots of clients who are eager and ready to enter the workforce.

This is the time of year to get creative and think outside of the box. Have you ever wondered who puts up the decorations at you mall or who helps package all the online orders? Seasonal jobs are one way to ensure continued placement during the holiday season.

Another potentially more sustainable method can be to learn how to tap into federal programs. Higher is planning to release 4 case studies and resource guides over the next 4 weeks. Each study will lend a new perspective on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the programs and resources that are available to refugees.

Higher recognized two case studies from resettlement agencies who already have leveraged these federal resources. These case studies and resource guides will lend an on-the-ground perspective on establishing an employment partnership between refugee agencies and a WIOA program. The final two studies will focus on resources for refugee youth between the ages of 16 and 24 and who are hoping to enter the workforce. Please stay tuned in December for the release of these studies.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Leave a comment below, or share your thoughts with us at information@higheradvantage.org.

December 15, 2016 – Higher WIOA Collaboration Webinar

Collaborating with Mainstream Workforce Development and Taking Advantage of WIOA-funded Training Opportunities

Thursday, December 15, 2016

2:00 – 3:30pm EST

Higher has made a concerted effort over the past couple years to educate our network about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) and the ways in which collaborating with the mainstream workforce development system can increase training and career opportunities for refugees. When it comes to helping refugees transition from survival jobs to fulfilling career pathways with better wages, the mainstream system has a lot to offer.

The webinar will offer both government and refugee agency perspective on current opportunities and strategies for collaboration between refugee employment programs and mainstream funding.  Featured guest speakers include representatives of the U.S. of Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Education, and the International Institute of Saint Louis, a refugee agency that has a long history of successful mainstream partnership.

We hope you will join us!

Register here

Higher’s December Webinars

Financial Literacy: How to Teach the Basics

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

2:00 – 3:15pm EST

Financial literacy is an essential component of economic self sufficiency. This webinar will explore what topics are most important and will feature resources designed to be used as job readiness activities. Panelists will share financial literacy initiatives and examples of community partnerships that can be replicated. Financial literacy curriculums will be highlighted throughout the training.  

Register here


Collaborating with Mainstream Workforce Development and Taking Advantage of WIOA-funded Training Opportunities

Thursday, December 15, 2016

2:00 – 3:30pm EST

Higher has made a concerted effort over the past couple years to educate our network about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) and has highlighted mainstream workforce development resources and collaboration case studies on our blog. In this webinar, Higher will continue building our network’s awareness of WIOA-related opportunities by highlighting specific career pathways opportunities within the mainstream workforce system that have potential to help refugees move beyond “survival jobs.” Speakers are still being confirmed, but Higher is hoping that this webinar will feature both government WIOA experts, as well as refugee field staff that have successfully collaborated with the mainstream system.

Register here

Free Webinar Archive: What WIOA Means for Immigrants

wioa

A Resource to Deepen Your Knowledge of WIOA Resources as Arrival Numbers Continue to Rise

Wonder how to keep current about WIOA and mainstream workforce collaboration opportunities?

There’s so much information out there and not much time to find the most helpful resources for your unique mix of client, community and agency priorities. It’s even more important to make the best use of all available resources to support your growing case load.

A recent National Skills Coalition webinar provided a comprehensive, practical and current overview of the important opportunities and changes that WIOA offers  for refugees and immigrants as federal WIOA regulations were published.  It’s worth your time to listen to the webinar archive to help you identify the best resources, programs and starting points for collaboration.

Workforce Resource: Registered Apprenticeship

Source: www.rittal.com

Source: www.rittal.com

Welcome to the fourth post in our series featuring some of the tools, resources and programs available in the mainstream workforce system, shaped by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and delivered through the national network of American Job Centers serving all U.S. job seekers.

It’s a complex, resource-rich system underutilized in refugee employment services. Higher is determined to change that so our clients benefit from new opportunities and employment services.

We’ll do the research you don’t have time for amidst managing client caseloads and employer relationships. You can focus on using highlighted resources to help your clients succeed in the U.S. workforce.

So far we’ve highlighted online tools that you can utilize in your job counseling and job development efforts, as well as On-the-job Training. In this post we’ll talk about the U.S. Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship program.

Apprenticeships Are Making a Comeback

Source: https://www.dol.gov/featured/apprenticeship/shareables

www.dol.gov/featured/apprenticeship/shareables

When you think of an apprenticeship, you probably think of a unionized position in a skilled trade. That’s because that was what the U.S. Apprenticeship program looked like when it started about 75 years ago.

Today there are more than 400,000 registered apprenticeships in more than 1,000 occupations.

Since 2014, the US has added more than 75,000 new apprenticeships, the largest increase in nearly a decade. Some of these are traditional apprenticeships in the skilled trades, but many are non-traditional apprenticeships in fields including Healthcare, Information Technology, Advanced Manufacturing, Transportation and Logistics and Energy. Learn more about DOL industry priorities here.

(Re)starting a U.S. Career Through Registered Apprenticeship

Registered Apprenticeship combines classroom-based learning with structured on-the-job learning. This federally funded “earn while you learn” training program allows employers to develop a highly qualified workforce and helps apprentices learn a trade while earning a living wage.

A Registered Apprenticeship can last anywhere from 1-6 years (most are 4 year programs) and always leads to a nationally recognized credential that is both portable and scalable.

This means that apprenticeships lead to even more opportunity for additional career advancement for job seekers who might choose to take their skills and credential to a different employer or another State.  They might also decide later to obtain a higher level credential as they advance further in their chosen career.

The Five Components of Registered Apprenticeship

While Registered Apprenticeship can be organized differently and customized to the needs of the employer, there are five components to all Registered Apprenticeship programs:  

A Quick-Start Toolkit: Building Registered Apprenticeship Programs, U.S. Department of Labor / Apprenticeship USA

Source: A Quick-Start Toolkit: Building Registered Apprenticeship Programs, U.S. Department of Labor

Are Registered Apprenticeships a Good Fit for Refugees?

Apprenticeships can be a great fit for refugees, particularly those with higher levels of English coming from more skilled backgrounds—whether that be a professional from a STEM industry or a “blue collar” worker with experience in the skilled trades.

Registered apprenticeships have the potential to function as a bridge that overcomes refugees’ lack of US work experience and helps them obtain a “Made in America” industry credential – all while earning a living wage.

Imagine what a difference it could make, both financially and emotionally, for some of our higher-skilled clients to be putting their skills to use, learning new skills, gaining credentials, and earning $5+ above minimum wage. (Most apprenticeship positions start around $15/hour).

Challenges to Anticipate

We believe this is a great opportunity, but it won’t be easy to access. As we’ve noted in past posts, the mainstream workforce development system is huge and complex. Many who work in this system are unfamiliar with refugees. In addition, apprenticeships work differently in different states and expertise is largely centralized in federal and state government.

It will take a significant amount of staff time to figure out how things work in your state or locality. One way that refugee employment programs have overcome this challenge is to assign a staff member or volunteer to be liaison to key stakeholders in the mainstream system, including American Job Centers (AJC), Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), and state/city workforce offices.

With intentional planning and commitment, we believe it’s worth the time to overcome the challenge of access to mainstream programs like Registered Apprenticeship.

3 Ways to Explore Apprenticeship Opportunities

  1. Get to know you state apprenticeship office and other mainstream workforce development players in your area. Start by finding the office for apprenticeship in your state. This list includes all DOL apprenticeship contacts by state.  If you have a hard time connecting with the apprenticeship office, connect with staff at your local American Job Center, and they may be able to help connect you to the right person or organization to talk to.
  1. Search for local apprenticeship opportunities using the map available on the US Department of Labor’s website. You can also use the Apprenticeship Finder search tool on careeronestop.org. It may be strategic to begin intentional outreach efforts with companies and unions that you know have apprenticeships that could match client skills. Take a look at this list of current Apprenticeship grantees to see where apprenticeships may already be happening in your area.
  1. Talk to the employers that you already work with, and make sure they are aware of the federal Registered Apprenticeship program. Who knows? Maybe one of your employer partners would be interested in creating an Apprenticeship program specifically for refugee-background employees. Share this helpful toolkit and  for employers interested in creating Registered Apprenticeship programs.

Resources for Learning More

For more information and resources on Registered Apprenticeships, visit the ApprenticeshipUSA website.

Be sure to look at the ApprenticeshipUSA toolkit, where you can access eLearning modules on the Registered Apprenticeship program, as well as other information about setting up apprenticeship programs and/or marketing them to employers.

If you have any experience with placing refugees in apprenticeships, please email us at information@higheradvantage.org to share your insights on this career path strategy.

Interactive Employment Resource Collection

This resource collection is long overdue. To access resources about any of the topics in the below graphic, simply click on the topic!

Please let us know if you have any youth resources to add so we can keep building the collection!

Workforce Collaboration Case Study: Ready for Retail Training for Refugee Youth

Photo Credit: ACC-DEN

Photo Credit: ACC-DEN

ECDC’s African Community Center of Denver, CO (ACC) shares what they have learned through a very successful training program for refugee youth that partners with two American Job Centers, funds ACC’s retail customer service training program and builds workplace skills for refugee youth.

Read the case study online or download a PDF version if you prefer. You will learn

  • how and why ACC began partnering with mainstream workforce centers;
  • how to register as an Eligible Training Provider to gain eligibility to receive WIOA training funds for participant training;
  • how ACC’s Ready for Retail training program developed over time and what participants say about how they benefitted; and
  • some of the lessons ACC learned that you can replicate in your own efforts.
About Higher’s Workforce Collaboration Case Study Series

This case study, written by Higher Peer Advisor Carrie Thiele, ACC Training Program Manager, is the first of five that Higher will make available over the coming months to help us all learn from each other about successful strategies for strengthening our collaboration with the mainstream workforce system so that refugees can better access workforce services provided across the country for all U.S. job seekers.

If you are collaborating with the workforce system in your community and want to share what you’re learning with peers across the country, get in touch at information@higheradvantage.org.

 

Request for Peer Support for Higher

money tree

How are you collaborating with the mainstream workforce system?  We want to learn what’s working and share it with our network.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) legislates the mainstream workforce system encompassing 2,500+ resource centers governed by local and State workforce boards.

WIOA is getting alot of buzz and includes lots of buzzwords. American Job Center (AJC). Workforce Development Board (WDB). Out of School Youth (OSY). On-the-Job-Training (OJT). 

Just the terminology alone can be confusing and overwhelming.

No matter what terms you use, refugees deserve increased access to the resources available for all U.S. job seekers.  We – the national refugee employment network- are in the best position to start building stronger bridges between the refugee resettlement network and the mainstream workforce system that houses all those resources.

There are a few well-known and long-standing examples. Higher has already begun to collect more from your peers in Washington, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Virginia.  We know there are more examples, but we need you to help us find them.

Call to Action

Before 2015 comes to a close, send a quick email to information@higheradvantage.org or get in touch with Lorel, Daniel or Sarah. Nothing formal required.  Just tell us about your experience or that of another refugee employment program.  We’ll take it from there.