State Strategies for Implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

States are re-engineering their workforce development systems because of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).  One of the primary workforce system challenges is that too many adults lack the skills or credentials required for in-demand jobs.   Of those who lack the skills for in-demand jobs, many do not know how to access information and training needed for the in-demand jobs.   The second major challenge is to prepare students to be college and career ready.  A 2015 survey found that that 78% of college faculty and 62% of employers believe that public high schools are not doing enough to prepare students for the expectations they will face in college and the working world.  In addition, it is estimated that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training.    WIOA provides the framework and direction to state governments to realign their workforce and educations systems to meet these challenges.
WIOA core programs include the federally funded adult, dislocated worker and youth services programs, the Wagner-Peyser program, adult education and literacy programs and rehabilitation services programs.  States are developing strategic plans for these programs and implementing WIOA through new programs and extensive collaboration between departments of workforce development, education, labor, human services and the state and local workforce development boards. This research brief reviews critical state strategies for implementing WIOA and is part three of a three-part series providing an overview of WIOA. 

WIOA Planning and Operating Strategies

States are responsible for development of comprehensive strategic plans for implementation of WIOA.  The strategic plan must include a detailed review of the state’s strategy for preparing an educated workforce and aligning the core and partner programs.   State’s must conduct an analysis of the state and regional economic characteristics, review the existing and emerging industry sectors, identify individuals with significant barriers to employment and prepare an assessment of the occupational needs of employers.  Finally, the strategic plans should identify the gaps between the employer needs and the workforce skills and abilities, and identify a strategy to bridge these gaps.
States were also required to identify regions and local areas based on labor market areas and regional economic structures.  The regions were then required to develop strategic plans that aligned with the state plans, and described how programs would be coordinated with the state. 
Successful integration of services provided by different organizations within state government is critical for states in implementing WIOA.    For example, adult employment programs and unemployment insurance typically fall under the administrative responsibility of the Labor Department, while the adult and youth education programs may fall under the Education Department.  The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program will usually be within the Department for Human Services.  WIOA requires these programs and departments to coordinate and integrate services. 
Operationally, states must also integrate the administration of programs that cross state government, regional workforce boards and one-stop centers.  Local Workforce Development Boards are responsible for overseeing the WIOA programs and local one-stop partners are responsible to provide services to job seekers and employers.
Private sector participation in the workforce system is also critical to identify skills needed for current and future jobs, and to develop education and training programs that meet these needs.  Two key workforce development strategies designed to accomplish this and required by WIOA are “sector strategies” and “career pathways”.   States and regions are required to incorporate the sector strategies and career pathways approaches in workforce development efforts, and these strategies must be tailored to each state and region within the state, based on their economic strengths and characteristics. 

Sector strategies are employer-driven partnerships within an industry that brings together economic development officials, education and training programs, and labor and community organizations to focus on the workforce needs of that industry.   A sector partnership brings together employers within one industry to identify the skills and occupations needed to fill jobs within the industry.  The partnership with the departments of economic development, workforce development and education help inform officials of the current and long-term workforce training needs, and supports both jobseekers and employers.   

The career pathway strategy is intended to help job seekers learn the skills necessary to find employment in an in-demand occupation or career that provides opportunity for advancement, and at a wage that can sustain themselves and their families.   A career pathway is a clear sequence of education coursework or training programs that lead to a career in a particular occupational cluster with opportunities for advancement.  Career pathway programs have been traditionally geared to students in high school and education departments across the country have been incorporating these career pathways in their career readiness curriculum.  However, a career pathway programs can also be offered to experienced workers and jobseekers who need to learn new skills and offered by adult education and work-based programs.  To be truly effective, a career pathway system must include input from business and industry to obtain information on the skills and occupations needed now and anticipated jobs of the future.  Career pathways transform the role of employers from customer to partner in the design and development of education and training programs. 

Registered apprenticeships are a type of career pathway program and are a proven strategy for training employees in a variety of occupations. Registered apprenticeships provide job seekers supervised on-the-job training and technical related instruction and enable employers to build and maintain a skilled workforce.  While registered apprenticeships are common in traditional industries such as construction and advanced manufacturing, they are increasingly being offered in healthcare, cybersecurity, information technology and childcare. 

WIOA Implementation Case Studies


Governor Hogan took office two and half years ago, about the time that the state was beginning WIOA implementation.  The Governor and his administration embraced WIOA as an opportunity to re-evaluate how the workforce system works. Maryland’s overall strategy is to “place people before performance”, which means that Maryland is dedicated to focusing its efforts on those who need assistance the most.  Their belief is that by focusing efforts on those with barriers to employment and placing job seekers on a path toward sustainability, overall workforce system performance will improve.  

Maryland submitted a combined state plan and included the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers Program, the Jobs for Veterans State Grant Program, and Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Program.  Maryland designated twelve local areas.

One of the hallmarks of Maryland’s WIOA implementation is the focus on integration and collaboration across departments at the state level and between the state and the local agencies. The state’s WIOA plan was the first time that the workforce development activities of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the Department of Human Services and the State Department of Education were coordinated and produced in one plan.  The administration believes frequent communication between these agencies will develop a deeper understanding of the services each offers and a better understanding of business needs and that people with expertise in programs acting collaboratively can have a greater impact than each department acting on its own. 

Maryland has also worked to promote collaboration between the state and local WIOA partners.  The State of Maryland has held 2 WIOA “convenings” thus far that brought together the local level representatives and state implementing teams to learn and strategize on how to collaborative effectively.  The first meeting focused on the programs and strategic planning required for successful WIOA implementation, and emphasized the importance of making sure everyone was included in the process that needed to be included.  Maryland also emphasized that the local planning process and programs should include Title I, the programs traditionally addressed at the local level, and the other WIOA programs such as education programs. 

A second convening was held to explain the process of integrating the Health and Human Services program TANF into the WIOA workforce system.   The state created snapshots of the “typical” TANF recipient for each local area.   The information provided was counter to many preconceptions about the work habits and lifestyles of people on TANF.  For Maryland overall, data show that most TANF recipients have recent work experience, but their earnings are low. Most have a high school education, but many do not. Typically, they are African American women with 1 or 2 young children.  This deeper understanding of the population to be served supports the “people first” philosophy and helps workforce partners better understand mutual customers.  Future convenings to continue to state and local conversation and collaboration are planned, since these meetings have been so effective in bringing partners together to meaningfully improve the workforce system. 

Maryland also made an organizational change to facilitate WIOA.  The Office of Apprenticeships was moved from the Division of Labor and Industry to the Division of Workforce and Adult Learning, and Maryland officials say that has been transformative.   This move has allowed DLLR to increase integration of apprenticeship into the WIOA workforce system and to expand the program’s focus. They also received $2.2 million in grant funds from the U.S. Department of Labor and have hired additional staff members and create the Apprenticeship Innovation Fund.  The fund will promote apprenticeships in nontraditional industries, such as cybersecurity, information technology, and healthcare, in addition to expanding opportunity to underrepresented populations.

The Apprenticeship Maryland program also expands focus to youth apprenticeship pilot programming and gives businesses the opportunity to train and shape high school students by providing opportunities for Maryland’s high school juniors and seniors. Participants “learn while they earn” by earning a wage and both a high school diploma and a State Skill Certificate.   This career pathway approach ensures Maryland’s jobseekers are offered education and skills along with the necessary credentials to meet industry demands. 

Maryland’s EARN initiative, which stand for Employment Advancement Right Now, is their industry based, regionally focused sector strategies program. EARN was created in 2014 by state statute and is funded by general fund grants.  A sector strategy is initiated by having at least five businesses indicate an interest in a sector partnership. The program has been very successful and currently involves more than 700 businesses in over 40 partnerships.  The EARN sectors include healthcare, construction, biotechnology, cybersecurity and information technology, transportation and logistics.  A recent study on the economic impact of the program estimates that for every $1 of state funding invested in EARN, the return is almost $15. Given the program’s success, the budget will double in FY18 with an added specific investment in the cyber and green industries.


The cornerstone of Iowa’s WIOA strategy is the Future Ready Iowa, an initiative of Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynold to build a pipeline of skilled workers who are prepared to meet the workforce needs of Iowa’s current and emerging industries.  The Future Ready Iowa program was created after Iowa received a National Governors Association grant in 2014 to develop strategies to improve the educational and training attainment of it citizens and the alignment of degrees and credentials with employer demand.
Iowa submitted a unified WIOA plan with 15 local areas.  Iowa’s workforce strategy will emphasize the “new minimum” of high-quality education, training and work readiness by bringing together education, rehabilitation, workforce, and economic development resources to develop an integrated and efficient workforce delivery system. The long-term goal is to have seventy percent of Iowa’s workforce to have post-secondary education, training or a credential of value by 2025.  

The Iowa organizational structure is a good example of how departments across different government agencies must collaborate for WIOA implementation.  The Governor's office is responsible for overseeing WIOA planning and implementation while the Iowa Workforce Development Board was charged with writing the state plan. WIOA partner programs are administered in many different departments.  For example, programs administered by the Iowa Workforce Development include Apprenticeships, Veterans Services, and Unemployment Insurance programs.  The Department of Education oversees the adult education programs and rehabilitation services, and they lead Iowa’s sector partnership and career pathways program. 

To promote integration of services Iowa held a “One Door, Many Paths” conference to bring together multiple agencies to discuss the implementation of WIOA.    The agencies and organizations that collaborated for the conference were:
• Iowa Workforce Development
• Iowa Department of Education
• Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services
• Department for the Blind
• Department of Human Services
• Department of Corrections
• Department of Aging
• Iowa Economic Development Authority
• Des Moines Area Community College
• Association of Workforce Partners 

The conference focused on customer service, innovative design and partnerships.  Attendees learned about Career Pathways, Public and Private Partnerships, Building Sector Strategies, and Targeting Populations. 

One of the Iowa’s key strategies for WIOA implementation is increasing Pre-Apprenticeships and Registered Apprenticeships.  The U.S. Department of Labor has recognized Iowa as a leader in the Registered Apprenticeship model of work-based learning.  In 2014, the Iowa legislature enacted the Iowa Apprenticeship Act to increase the number of apprentices in Iowa.   The Act includes annual funding of $3 million to increase the number of apprentices through training grants and educational programs. 

In addition, Iowa received an Apprenticeship USA Accelerator State Expansion grant in fall of 2016 and a program coordinator was hired to oversee that program.  One of the first steps the coordinator took was to develop an integrated statewide training for staff of all the state and local partners.    The training sessions included a registered apprenticeship 101 class, training on how to introduce registered apprenticeships to businesses, and an in-depth training with IowaWorks one-stop centers. To make sure that the local and state agencies are communicating effectively, the IowaWorks one-stop center staff have an individual point of contact at the state Office of Apprenticeship.
The Iowa Apprenticeship program targets both youth beginning their professional career and mid-career adults who are interested in improving their career pathways by changing careers.  Business representatives work closely with the Office of Apprenticeship to market the apprenticeship model to businesses and industries.  The goal of the apprenticeship program is to double the number of registered apprentices by September 2019 and to expand opportunities to underrepresented populations including women, minorities, people with disabilities.


WIOA offers opportunities for transformative changes to the effectiveness of state workforce systems.    The state plans have been submitted and approved and now state workforce officials are now in the process of implementing their plans.  The initial experience of both Maryland and Iowa illustrate that collaboration between state and local agencies, as well as implementation of new workforce development strategies are leading to promising results. 

1. Achieve, Inc., Employers and College Faculty Report Gaps in Recent Graduates’ Preparedness in New National Survey, July 22, 2015.
2. Carnevale, A. P.; Smith, N.; and Strohl, J. (2013). Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020. Report issued by the Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown Public Policy Institute. June 2013. Washington DC: Georgetown University.
3. Council of State Governments, Workforce Development: How State are Innovating with WIOA, eCademy Webinar held May 9, 2017.
4. Counts, Donna. WIOA 101: A Bird’s Eye View of the State Implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Council of State Governments, April 2017.
5. Counts, Donna. Federal Funding for State Employment and Training Programs Covered by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Council of State Governments, April 2017.
6. Iowa Department of Education, Adult Career and Community College website
7. Iowa Workforce Development, 2016 Iowa Workforce Development Annual Report
8. Iowa Workforce Development, Onward and Upward 2017 Budget Presentation
9. website, Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Youth Apprenticeship.
10. Maryland Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) State Plan, 2016.
11. National Forum on Education Statistics. Forum Guide to College and Career Ready Data. (NFES 2015-157). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2015.
12. Public Law 113-128, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, 1425-1722, July 22, 2014.
13. U.S. Department of Labor Contract No. DOLU141A22202 with Manhattan Strategy Group, Career Pathways Toolkit: An Enhanced Guide and Workbook for System Development, October 2016
14. Wolsey, Lindsey, and Garret Groves, State Sector Strategies Coming of Age: Implications for State Workforce Policymakers, National Governor’s Association, 2013.
15. Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act; Joint Rule for Unified and Combined State Plans, Performance Accountability, and the One-Stop System Joint Provisions; Final Rule, Fed. Reg. Vol 81, No. 161, Friday, August 19, 2016, Rules and Regulations. 55792-56470.