Every day social innovators and social innovation organizations across the country are measurably impacting communities and individuals. This Practice to Policy blog series lifts up the voices of the more than 70 organizations that make up the America Forward Coalition and our broader social innovation network by highlighting their outcomes-based solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems and why these solutions must be reflected in our federal policies. Today, Caroline Whistler, CEO and Co-Founder of America Forward Coalition member Third Sector Capital Partners, and Nicole Truhe, Government Affairs Director for America Forward write about the importance of the changes made in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to support a more outcomes-based contracting approach in how we allocate our federal workforce system dollars.
Prior to 2014, our federal workforce development system persisted virtually unchanged for over 15 years because the law was never reauthorized. While policy was stagnant, businesses, employees, and the overall economy shifted considerably during that period. By just one measure, the use of the internet, email, and smartphones for one’s job and in how employers operate was not a consideration of policymakers when, before 2014, they were establishing the nationwide system of state and local/regional workforce planning boards and block grants to support workforce and job training programming.
Additionally, during that 15-year period, the evidence-based movement—including a desire to make policy and practice decisions based on data and evaluation—was taking hold in state legislatures and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. As a result, when America Forward launched our workforce development task force in 2012 and developed our comprehensive policy platform, it outlined features that America Forward Coalition members like Genesys Works, REDF, Third Sector Capital Partners, and YouthBuild believed were critical to better integrate the development of our economy with the preparation of our workforce and that would also help to shift federal policy to reward results, incentivize innovation, catalyze cross-sector partnerships, and advance equity.
At America Forward, our belief is that successful policy wins are possible when preparation meets opportunity and effective preparation includes developing a perspective and message that clearly expresses the vision and views that an organization or coalition wants to advance on a specific issue. Through our policy platform process, our Coalition aligned around a core set of messages and policy ideas related to addressing the needs and gaps in the federal workforce system that we then developed an advocacy plan around.
Effective advocacy involves both a strategic communications effort and a clear, targeted outreach plan to policymakers and other influencers. As part of our advocacy effort, America Forward and our Coalition members developed one-pagers and communications pieces that further elaborated on our perspectives and policy ideas and that connected the work of our Coalition members to these messages and priorities
Fortunately, our alignment and advocacy coincided with the opportunity that was presenting itself in Congress to finally reauthorize the outdated workforce development law. Members in both chambers and from both sides of the aisle appreciated that an update to the system was required to meet the needs of employers and employees alike. With this, America Forward moved to action and was involved in supporting and ensuring the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which made many significant changes to our federal workforce and job training programs.
Specifically, America Forward and the America Forward Coalition secured key provisions in WIOA, including authorizing Pay for Performance contracting; prioritizing and supporting career pathways; supporting the development of alternative, evidence-based programs that encourage youth to re-enter and complete secondary school, enroll in post-secondary education and advanced training and progress through a career pathway; promoting better coordination by aligning workforce development programs with economic development and education initiatives; utilizing prior learning assessments; prioritizing work-based learning experiences, such as internships, for youth; permitting funding of transitional jobs programs; and, continuing support for the U.S. Department of Labor’s YouthBuild program.
One of the more innovative changes in WIOA, the new Pay for Performance provisions, for the first time, authorized the use of this contracting approach that had the potential to improve outcomes through a focus on evidence-based interventions, to reward outcomes-based service providers, and to save taxpayer dollars. To realize the potential, however, the workforce system needed support in understanding the concept, interpreting the authority, and executing on Pay for Performance Contracts.
Using support from the Social Innovation Fund, Third Sector collaborated with workforce boards in Austin, Boston, Denver, Northern Virginia, and San Diego to explore using these Pay for Performance provisions. The ultimate goal of this process was to enable jurisdictions to support the testing and scaling of high-impact youth workforce development strategies, direct limited resources toward programs that work, and build pathways to attract additional resources that will result in long-term improvements in employment and earnings. Armed with the knowledge of how the WIOA P4P would encourage providers to focus on harder to reach outcomes, a subsect of these workforce boards proceeded to develop a P4P contracting strategy for economically disadvantaged foster care and justice-involved young adults. These efforts shifted the existing contract process towards tying payment to outcomes and will look to improve service delivery and performance management. Additionally, the opportunity allowed the communities to identify positive advances that will pay dividends in their work beyond this specific effort such as the use of data, outcomes, and evaluation to ensure the effectiveness of their programs.
As a nation, we are not preparing our citizens to meet the demands of the 21st Century economy, wasting the extraordinary human potential represented by the millions unemployed or underemployed Americans. Any effort to change the circumstances of those now left out of the economic mainstream – and reverse the negative impact on our overall economy – demands that we rethink the way we invest public resources, as well as learn from and expand proven programs and practices that work to enable students, youth, and adults from all backgrounds to succeed economically. Through America Forward’s work to advance legislative changes as we did in WIOA, and with the expert support that Coalition members like Third Sector can provide to states, localities, and providers to support their successful implementation, there is real opportunity to fundamentally shift how our federal workforce system resources are spent.
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