In a divided Congress with an increasingly complicated political landscape to navigate, policymakers are eager to find areas for collaboration that can facilitate and build bipartisan support. One area where there is significant interest from policymakers on both sides of the aisle is to find innovative, equitable solutions that can provide greater opportunities and support for the U.S. workforce. Especially as economic concerns continue to grow, workforce policy represents a shared opportunity to secure bipartisan wins that can display real impact for constituents across the board.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the civilian labor force participation rate still remains below pre-pandemic levels. While these levels are rising at an albeit slow but steady pace, these trends continue to fuel a need for innovative solutions surrounding pathways and opportunities that can drive greater workforce participation – especially at a time when there continues to be uncertainty around jobs and a potentially looming recession.
In both Congress and the administration, there are already several efforts to support the U.S. workforce. These initiatives include broad legislative opportunities, as well as narrower, targeted strategies being advanced by the administration. Policymakers are concerned with moving policies that can enhance opportunities for underserved communities, removing barriers to job accessibility (such as childcare and transportation), enacting strategies that can support sector-specific growth, creating innovative solutions through apprenticeships and training programs, and more.
With a wide array of forward-thinking ideas, a dedicated cohort of stakeholders, and policymakers that continue to view jobs as a key priority for their constituents – the 118th Congress is opportune for significant workforce policy action. There is a myriad of areas where action has already begun, and several others where one can expect more activity over the next several months.
Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA) Reauthorization: Perhaps the greatest opportunity on the horizon for significant workforce policy to advance is reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA is the primary legislative package that supports U.S. investments in employment services, workforce development, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation. It was last passed in 2014 and ran through FY 2020, with extensions passed through the annual appropriations process since then. There is bipartisan, bicameral interest in passing a comprehensive WIOA reauthorization package during this Congress.
Sector-Specific Strategies from the Administration: The administration has launched several efforts to explore improved workforce development strategies on a sector-by-sector basis. To that end, the Department of Labor launched a comprehensive comment process earlier this year to solicit input on how to address workforce needs of specific industries. Furthermore, the administration has also focused on boosting these efforts through releasing narrower workforce strategies specific to certain industries. A strong example of this has been in cybersecurity – where the Department of Defense released their 2023-2027 DoD Cyber Workforce Strategy earlier this month, and the White House Office of the National Cyber Director is expected to publish their National Strategy on Cyber Workforce, Training and Education this summer.
Ongoing Implementation of BIL and CHIPS: Both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS Act that were enacted last Congress included significant investments for workforce expansion. There will continue to be efforts to distribute this funding in a manner that will align with workforce expansion priorities across a number of sectors. While much of the funding included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was allocated towards more traditional manufacturing and infrastructure needs, several buckets of funding were contingent on driving the administration’s growing focus on training and upskilling workforce capacity– especially through pathways that are based on credentials, rather than more traditional education models.
Federal Funding on the Horizon: Lastly, if congressional appropriators are able to advance Fiscal Year 2024 funding this year, we can expect for workforce policies to receive support through these spending measures. This was certainly reflected in President Biden’s FY 2024 budget request, which emphasized a commitment to “investing in effective, evidence-based training models that would ensure all workers have the skills they need to compete for and fill jobs.” The administration included boosted funding request for the creation of new workforce programs, expanding access to registered apprenticeship programs, supporting training programs through community colleges, and more – some of which could potentially gain some traction in Congress through the appropriations process.