The New Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act:
The Name of Our Game Is Workforce Development

Sep 29th, 2015 | By | Category: Adult, Levels, Levels, Chapters, & Interest Groups
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image of Dave Coleman, author

Dave Coleman


—What’s in a name? Evidently, very much! The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 has been reauthorized for the first time in 10 years with a new name, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Formerly emphasizing the government’s financial investment in workforce development, the new legislation focuses on labor and educational agencies’ creative and collaborative responsibility to develop our workforce. That responsibility is to provide multiple opportunities that are singularly focused on getting more Americans—particularly those hardest hit by the twists and turns of global competition, technological changes, economic isolation, or inadequate education opportunities—ready to work with marketable skills. It amends the Workforce Investment Act to strengthen the US workforce development system through innovation in, and alignment and improvement of, employment, training, and education programs and promotes individual and national economic growth.

Following are the background and highlights of the Innovation and Opportunity Act, keys to implementation for ESL programs, and expert tips for administrators and teachers.


On January 30, 2014, President Obama directed Vice President Biden to lead a government-wide review of federal programs in the workforce and training system to ensure they can equip the nation’s workers with skills matching the needs of employers looking to hire. The review culminated in an action plan to make the system more job driven, integrated, and effective.

This led to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (Innovation and Opportunity Act), which President Obama signed into law on July 22, 2014. This was the first significant legislative reform of the nation’s job-training system in many years and passed the House and Senate almost unanimously. Because this was a bipartisan effort, hopes are high that the Innovation and Opportunity Act allocations to the states will increase.

This act reauthorizes the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) with several major revisions for adult education as part of a comprehensive national employment/education/ training strategy.

The act describes the same four “core” programs or “titles” as did its predecessor, the Workforce Investment Act. What are these “titles” and with which department are they associated?

  • Title I: Workforce Development Activities for Adults, Dislocated Workers and Youth (Labor)
  • Title II: Adult Education and Literacy (Education, of which CATESOL is a part)
  • Title III: Wagner-Peyser (Labor)
  • Title IV: Vocational Rehabilitation (Education)


  • Reauthorized for six years from 2015 to 2020
  • Maintains existing funding structures, not a block grant (adult education maintains its Title II funding)

Overall Changes

  • One unified plan across all titles that has both a strategic vision and operational strategies to align the four core programs or titles (not separate plans from the Department of Labor)
  • Local plans aligned with state plans
  • Common performance measures across all core programs

Title II (Adult Education) Changes and Themes

  • Sharper focus on transitions to postsecondary education and employment—a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate is not enough!
  • Maximized support for Career Pathways and Integrated Training that accelerate learning toward a career goal
  • Greater alignment and collaboration with partners (community-based organizations, nongovernment organizations, social services, etc.)
  • Stronger industry sector partnerships to better connect school/training to work
  • Regionalization
  • Services to employers
  • Use of evidence-based, best-practice research
  • Access for those with disabilities and increased distance learning and technology
  • Use of integrated technology for alignment, access, and management

As of now, no changes in data collection or requirements are associated with this reauthorization.

All of these moves are connected to College and Career Readiness Standards, as well as the California regional consortia work within the Maintenance of Effort and Adult Education Block Grant (AEGB), formerly known in its planning stage as AB 86 and now in its implementation stage as AB 104 or AEBG.

Adult Education Language Acquisition Programs’ Role

Within the Innovation and Opportunity Act it is clear what adult education’s role is. It is to:

  • Assist adults to become literate and obtain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment and economic self-sufficiency;
  • Assist adults who are parents or family members to obtain the education and skills that are necessary to becoming full partners in the educational development of their children, and that lead to sustainable improvements in the economic opportunities for their family
  • Assist adults in attaining a secondary school diploma and in the transition to postsecondary education and training, including through career pathways; and
  • Assist immigrants and other individuals who are English language learners in improving their
    • reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension skills in English
    • mathematics skills
    • understanding of the American system of government, individual freedom, and the responsibilities of citizenship.

According to the act, the term ‘‘English language acquisition program’’ means a program of instruction designed to help English language learners achieve competence in reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension of the English language that leads to attainment of a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent and that leads to transition to postsecondary education and training or employment.

Key Terms and Instructional Approaches

In moderating the CASAS summer panel discussion “Transitioning from WIA to WIOA: Opportunities and Challenges,” Lori Strumpf, president of Strumpf Associates: Center for Strategic Change, pointed out several keys to English language instruction. These names are not necessarily new, but the impetus to implement these approaches is greater than ever.

  • “Contextual learning”: A process of instruction, through contextual experiences, that provides opportunities to use knowledge and skills in authentic ways;
  • “Contextualized instruction”: Instruction that uses a targeted context, such as career exploration or financial or health literacy, to learn skills in reading, writing, math, critical thinking, and communication. Many providers have deliberate “prevocational” courses that prepare students to be successful in the next step of their career and education pathways.
  • “Coordinated instruction”: Basic skills instruction that is not only in a targeted context but is also coordinated with other courses (vocational or academic) so that the skills and information of the basic skills courses are provided in pace with what is needed in the courses. Examples include ESL classes that support vocational program participation (also known as VESL or VABE classes).
  • “Integrated instruction”: Instructional strategies that promote connectedness between knowledge and skills.
    • Integrated instruction allows students to move further and faster toward their goals by simultaneously combining skill building in basic education and a particular context, primarily career.
    • Third-party research has shown that this program model outperforms any other for moving students further and faster to college success and vocational credentials.
    • Teams of ESL or ABE and vocational instructors work together to develop and deliver instruction and assess student progress in both skill areas.
Expert Tips for ESL Program Administrators and Teachers

Virginia Hamilton, West Coast regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, Karen Bautista of San Bernardino Adult School, and Lori Strumpf offer suggestions for Title II teams and teachers to serve students through successful collaborations and instructional practices.

For Administrators

  • See students as our customers and change our language from “student” to “client.”
  • Brush up our customer-service skills.
  • Seek ways for academic teachers to share with and co-teach with CTE teachers based on student need and local industry needs.
  • Understand and engage industries, not employers.
  • Ask industry representatives what their industry needs are, not just what their employment needs are.
  • Don’t contact them by yourself but as a part of your WIOA regional system or team.
  • Tell the local Workforce Investment Board (WIB), which is responsible for developing policy in response to the new legislation, that we have teachers who can teach basic skills to a cohort of their employees. (To provide integrated services, local educational agencies who receive WIOA funding are mandated to collaborate with their local WIB.) Let OneStops, or WIB WorkSource Centers, know what we do and how we can serve their clients when they become our ESL students. OneStops help people get jobs or advance in the job market or in career development.
  • Invite our WIB or OneStops director to lunch and begin the conversation.
  • Start conversations with the simple, yet powerful, phrase “How might we …?”
    • How: It can be done
    • might: Less demanding of commitment, more inviting of possibility
    • we: We are partnering together in this
  • Use labor market information to inform program development.
  • Create prototypes or pilots of integrated, contextualized, and coordinated programs instead of big rollouts—if you fail early, it doesn’t cost so much.
  • Before building a big program, see where it’s been done before. “Steal and scale.”
  • Begin “client profiles” at intake that not only place students by skill levels but also by career goals to better program classes and personnel.
  • Share other services: “Did you know that we can help you to get …?” (your citizenship, your son a job, etc.)
  • Be a good listener—not a listener from an ESL silo. (Listen more broadly to needs at intake.) “We have a system that can help you.” It’s not just about our adult education but other agencies that can provide support.
  • Form employer/industry alliances (working in public-private partnership).
  • Find out whom to talk to and coordinate with other regional groups with overlapping initiatives.
  • Don’t think about government regions. Think about industry sector regions!
  • CALPRO provides several excellent blended, independent, and facilitated training modules that help students prepare for or improve in their career pathway, such as one on integrated education and training. Consider sending a school team to its next one—or hosting one at your school! (

For Instructors

Research shows a simple but important insight: There is a strong relationship between students’ interest and investment in their work at school and their teacher’s repertoire of techniques for engaging them. Some of the ideas below may be new, but many are simple reminders to help us focus our efforts where students’ needs are and in alignment with the new name in town, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

Questions to consider:

  • How would I name my job?
  • What are my students’ career and community goals? How can I find out and use this information to target my instruction?
  • Where can I build in student career awareness and goal-setting components?
  • How might I contextualize instruction? (All the data show that contextualized education works and works better than sequential—that is, basic skills low to high and then job/career training. Ten to 30% of classroom time doing contextualized learning still shows results.)
  • How can I connect to and learn about the labor market and regional industries in demand? What are some resources or websites?
  • How can I incorporate Howard Gardner’s research for teaching to various types of personalities (“intelligences”)?
  • How can I get training or find support to begin or improve my contextualized, coordinated, and integrated instruction?

Tips to consider:

  • Our job may have a new name: We are not just teachers—we are career and community coaches.
  • A great website to use at the beginning of each term for career awareness is:
  • Post pictures of jobs and community involvement in your room.
  • Find books about different occupations in the library and read them to/with your students.  Let them read them to their children.
  • Teach students web search skills.
  • Ask students to bring in authentic documents from their jobs, such as work schedules, memos, cleaning checklists, and so forth, and use them in class in scaffolded lessons.
  • Take the time to teach students organizational, self-monitoring/evaluation, and management skills by encouraging use of binders and portfolios, student and teacher-generated rules, quality checklists, rubrics, and progress charts, and cooperative group roles.
  • Consider an all-school mock job fair. Higher-level classes create companies (with posters) and job descriptions for employees they need to hire and lower-level classes practice interview skills giving personal information and using “I can …”/work skills statements in interviews with the higher-level students at the job fair at the end of the term.
  • Consider attending a training or learning independently via a CALPRO module that addresses best instructional practices related to the act:

Dave Coleman is the Adult Level assistant chair.

References and Resources

Another Perspective: Cause for Concern

The WIOA has been applauded for better aligning federally funded job training and adult education programs with the skills sought by American businesses. But according to the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy (NCIIP), the proposed WIOA regulations could threaten immigrants’ access to services that focus on citizenship preparation. By codifying that federal funds earmarked to support English and civics instruction for immigrants must be delivered in combination with workforce training services, the proposed rules would prevent states from using these program funds to serve immigrants (including refugees) who may not need or want workforce training. To address this problem, the institute’s NCIIP hosted a webinar on September 28 to discuss strategies to overcome WIOA’s barriers to access for low-educated and limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. You can view the webinar here.

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