During his March 22 Senate confirmation hearing, U.S. Secretary of Labor nominee Alexander Acosta repeatedly stressed that local communities must be in the driver’s seat when developing job training programs.
“I think those ideas can’t come from Washington. I think what Washington needs to do is go to them, and ask them what ideas do they see in their local area, and then work with them and [their] local governments to address that,” said Acosta.
Likewise, during a recent visit to Valencia College in Florida, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos heaped praise on the college’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, which provides training aligned with local manufacturers’ industry standards, stating “We need to think differently about how we help students pursue their education in the way that’s going to work for them.”
Both remarks came just a week after President Donald Trump unveiled his so-called skinny budget, which proposed deep cuts to many essential federal programs, including Pell Grants, federal job training programs, and other investments in local communities.
Both Acosta and Secretary DeVos’ remarks indicate that they fail to realize that even locally-driven workforce development programs and many of the community colleges that run them rely on federal investment.
Acosta, for his part, failed to mention—or perhaps does not realize—that the training programs he is set to preside over as labor secretary are in fact highly localized.
Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA—the largest source of dedicated federal funding for job training and employment services—the overwhelming majority of the program’s $3 billion in formula funds are managed at the local level. Federal funds are allocated to the states, which in turn set aside up to 15 percent for statewide activities and disburse the remaining funds to local workforce investment areas designated by the state.
These local workforce investment areas are managed by business-led workforce development boards, which include representation from the local workforce, higher education systems, local nonprofits, and community-based organizations.
To be sure, federal law does impose some requirements on how local areas can spend federal dollars. Local boards are responsible for operating the nation’s nearly 2,500 American Job Centers, which provide wide-ranging services to job seekers, including job training, job search assistance, career counseling, and information on accessing supportive services. Federal law also requires local areas to use adult and dislocated worker funding to provide employment and training services, coordinate with employers, and develop sector partnerships—an evidence-based training strategy that relies heavily on local partnerships. The law establishes requirements for youth programs as well. Localities are also held accountable for their performance.
Still, local areas enjoy broad discretion in the use of WIOA funding. Ultimately, local communities—relying on federal funds—make the decisions about what training and employment strategies work, how local funds are best spent, and how to engage business in an effective way. For example, in Detroit, in addition to offering services through American Job Centers, the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation offers locally developed targeted training programs such as the Detroit Registered Assistance Program, or D-RAP, an apprenticeship readiness program that recruits local residents, provides basic skills training and a training stipend, and works with employers to place candidates in Registered Apprenticeship programs.
Similarly, the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center toured in March by Secretary DeVos is the result of a $2.5 million federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training, or TAACCCT, grant. Using that funding, Valencia College leased and renovated the building that houses the center and partnered with local manufacturers, community-based organizations, and the public workforce system to develop curriculum and deliver training aligned with local industry needs.
The Valencia College program, such as the local initiatives that Acosta promotes, would not be possible without federal support. Yet President Trump’s budget would almost certainly impede local progress to develop demand-driven training programs.
The TAACCCT grants expired in 2014, and while former President Barack Obama’s budgets repeatedly called for renewing this type of investment in community colleges, President Trump’s skinny budget calls for just the opposite. It would instead make deep cuts to existing programs at both the Labor and Education departments. It would also slash funding for WIOA programs, which would hurt both the workers and local employers that rely on the services the workforce system provides. A more complete budget is expected out in May 2017, but if this preview is any indicator, investment is surely not on President Trump’s or his Cabinet’s agenda.
To his credit, President Trump has called for creating 5 million new apprenticeships in five years—building on a national goal first set by President Obama in 2014. But calling for more apprenticeships while simultaneously decimating the institutions—local workforce development programs and community colleges—that companies rely on as partners to build quality apprenticeship programs is no place to start.
If President Trump, Acosta, and Secretary DeVos are serious about ensuring that more people can access high-quality, affordable education and training, they must be prepared to invest. To do otherwise while at the same time lifting up local workforce development success stories is just dishonest.
Angela Hanks is the Associate Director for Workforce Development Policy on the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress.