Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act


In the first of our learning guides on accessing federal funds, we learned of the availability of federal funds to support the employment and training work that social enterprises do. One of these sources, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), is the largest source of federal funding for workforce development activities in the United States.

In this learning guide, we will learn:

  • About WIOA’s predecessor, WIA
  • About WIOA and the changes it implemented
  • How funding flows from the federal to local level
  • How social enterprises can benefit from WIOA funding


Background: Workforce Investment Act

In the mid-nineties, the United States was experiencing a period of “full employment” thanks to a booming economy. In 1998, President Clinton led the passage of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) which aimed to “provide workforce investment activities, through statewide and local workforce investment systems, that increase the employment, retention, and earnings of participants, and increase occupational skill attainment by participants.”

WIA particularly emphasized meeting the needs of businesses and the consolidation of programming through a “one-stop” approach. The idea was that individuals could go to one place to get access to all of the training resources; likewise, employers could go to one place to get access to these newly trained workers. To do so, each state was required to create both a state and local workforce investment board (WIB) that would administer the funds in such a way as to support programs that met local employer needs. The result was a stronger emphasis on employers and helping the needs of businesses, aiming to match the supply of workers with the local demand.


Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

In 2014, President Obama with bipartisan support signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which reauthorized the workforce investment system established by WIA that, while continuing to operate, had technically expired eleven years prior in 2003.

Addressing some of the challenges people faced with the system prior, WIOA consolidates programs into a single funding stream and seeks to take a regional approach, ensuring local boards are better aligned with the state’s strategy. This was done in recognition that employment needs and trends are much larger than specific counties or municipalities.

Some key changes in WIOA are:

  • Local boards must align with regional boards
  • There is a strong emphasis on sector based approach: aligning employer needs to local training providers
  • Even greater advisory from local employers
  • New performance measures with a strong emphasis on having clearer outcomes and more performance measures
  • A greater focus on individuals with significant barriers


WIOA Funding

Congress allocates funding to the U.S. Department of Labor, which in turn disburses to the states based on their share of the workforce and relative unemployment rates. In each of the states, state and local Workforce Development Boards (WDB) set the funding priorities for their areas. WDB are required by WIOA legislation to have representatives from the business community, community colleges, and elected officials to ensure that funding is directed towards those programs that address the needs of the local economy.

While the majority of the funds disbursed to states is used for training and employment programs, up to 15% of the funds can be used at each state governor’s discretion. These funds are known as the “governor’s reserve”.


WIOA Supported Training and Employment Programs

WIOA funds programs for three specific groups:

  1. Dislocated workers
  2. Adults
  3. Youth

Funding can be used for a variety of programming, including:

Individual WDBs determine how such programs are executed. One way is for the WDB to operate their own American Job Center (or One Stop Center) in which they provide a set of services like the ones described above. The other way is for the WDB to contract the operation of these programs out to third party service providers that are already doing this work locally.


WIOA Funding for Social Enterprises

Clearly there is a great deal of overlap between the goals and activities supported by WIOA and the work that social enterprises do. Moreover, WIOA’s emphasis on those populations with the highest barriers to employment makes this connection to social enterprises even stronger.

In order to access potential opportunities for WIOA funding, your social enterprise should:

  1. Build and maintain relationships with your local WDB. Like for all sources of public funding, this is how you will learn about upcoming funding and contracting opportunities.
  2. Ensure that your definitions of who you serve match the definitions of WIOA.
  3. Emphasize how your social enterprise can address WIOA requirements on providing services for those people with the highest barriers to employment.
  4. Emphasize being data driven. Given WIOA’s strong emphasis on outcomes, your ability to demonstrate positive outcomes for individuals with significant barriers can bring value to WDBs.
  5. In addition to working with your local WDB, leverage your state’s governor’s discretionary funding that can be used to support additional programming.

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