Strengthening Sectoral Strategies to Meet Critical Workforce Needs Across the Country

Effectively and inclusively improving economic mobility is critical to the long-term wellbeing of millions of individuals and families across America – and the Federal government is a key driver of this work. 

Recently, the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a request for information (RFI) seeking input on “sector-specific” workforce development strategies – workforce training programs aimed specifically at in-demand industries and/or occupations. DOL sought stakeholder input to “inform the Department’s efforts in developing sustainable and scalable sector strategies through economic development and workforce collaboration to meet local and regional sector needs for skilled workers in quality jobs”.

America Forward has long experience in advocacy related to sectoral strategies, and a number of America Forward Coalition members are engaged in delivering sectoral training programs in communities across the country. So, in response to the Department’s RFI, America Forward led a group of Coalition organizations and partners with relevant experience and expertise – Opportunity@Work, Per Scholas, Project Quest Inc., Propel America, Social Finance Inc., and Year Up Inc. – to develop and submit comments focused on “sustained funding, sustainability and scalability, and technical assistance support around sectoral programs.”

We share a strong belief in the positive impact of sectoral programs – as we wrote in our response to the RFI, “extensive evidence demonstrates that sectoral programs drive long-term improvements in economic mobility for people seeking high-quality employment in specific industries and high demand occupational clusters and advance equity across populations.” Given this demonstrated effectiveness, and the vital importance of improving economic mobility for more people in America (especially during the continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic), we believe there are concrete steps the Federal government can and should take to expand the reach of sectoral programs. 

First and foremost, the Federal government should devote more resources to support sectoral training programs. As we wrote, “today, public funding available for such models is far too limited, on account of both insufficient overall funding levels and virtually unmovable barriers in the design and deployment of prospective funding streams.” Essentially, overall funding is too low, and pots of existing resources that could be used to support sectoral training programs are too often misaligned or tied up in a complex web of regulations and allowable uses. Promising models exist – for example, the recently-released DOL Building Pathways to Infrastructure Jobs Program and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Good Jobs Challenge – and the DOL should prioritize replicating the approach of these programs, building on lessons learned, and ensuring they are resourced. 

Hand-in-hand with greater funding is the importance of ensuring that that funding is used to generate evidence and scale the most effective approaches. We encourage Federal policymakers to prioritize sectoral training models that have demonstrated sustained impacts on economic mobility through rigorous causal evidence, while also creating opportunities for new, innovative programs to develop evidence of quality and effectiveness, especially programs led by proximate leaders with relevant lived experience that target historically underserved and under-resourced populations, geographies, and sectors. In addition to new authorizations and appropriations, we call on federal agencies to leverage existing authority to support experiments to improve outcomes and equity aligned with sectoral strategies. One prime example is piloting integration of the Job Corps model with the most effective sectoral program designs, recognizing the high proportion of all federal workforce funding allocated to Job Corps.

Finally, the Federal government should see itself as a catalyst and a resource to drive greater state and local support for effective sectoral programs. The upcoming WIOA reauthorization and other Federal workforce policies create the opportunity to incentivize state and local investment, create more robust data systems to guide decision making at the state and local level, and ensure that decision-makers at the state and local level have access to best practices and strong technical assistance in order to implement sectoral programs. 

You can read about each of these recommendations in more detail in our full RFI response but, taken together, these steps will help ensure that effective, quality, and inclusive sectoral training programs are available to more people across the country, which will ultimately result in greater economic mobility and wellbeing for individuals, families, and entire communities.

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