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Workforce Investment Act: Innovative Collaborations between Workforce Boards and Employers Helped Meet Urgent Local Workforce Needs

GAO-12-419T Published: Feb 16, 2012. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 2012.
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What GAO Found

Workforce board officials and their partners in the 14 initiatives cited a range of factors that facilitated building innovative collaborations. Almost all of the collaborations grew out of efforts to address urgent workforce needs of multiple employers in a specific sector, rather than focusing on individual employers. The partners in these initiatives made extra effort to engage employers so they could tailor services such as jobseeker assessment, screening, and training to address specific employer needs. In all the initiatives, partners remained engaged in these collaborations because they continued to produce a wide range of reported results, such as an increased supply of skilled labor, job placements, reduced employer recruitment and turnover costs, and averted layoffs. While these boards were successful in their efforts, they cited some challenges to collaboration that they needed to overcome. Some boards were challenged to develop comprehensive strategies to address diverse employer needs with WIA funds. For example, some boards’ staff said that while their initiatives sought to meet employer needs for higher-skilled workers through skill upgrades, WIA funds can be used to train current workers only in limited circumstances, and the boards used other funding sources to do so. Staff from most, but not all, boards also said that WIA performance measures do not reflect their efforts to engage employers, and many boards used their own measures to assess their services to employers. Labor has taken various steps to support local collaborations, such as conducting webinars and issuing guidance on pertinent topics, and contributing to a new federal grant program to facilitate innovative regional collaborations. Yet, while many boards cited leveraging resources as a key to facilitating collaboration, Labor has not compiled pertinent information on effective practices for leveraging resources and made it easy to access.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses collaboration between workforce boards, employers, and others. As the United States continues to face high unemployment in the wake of the recent recession, federally funded workforce programs can play an important role in bridging gaps between the skills present in the workforce and the skills needed for available jobs. However, there is growing recognition that these programs need to better collaborate with employers to align services and training with employers’ needs. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) envisioned such collaboration by focusing on employers as well as jobseekers, establishing a “dual customer” approach. To create a single, comprehensive workforce investment system, WIA required that 16 programs administered by four federal agencies—the Departments of Labor (Labor), Education, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development—provide access to their services through local one-stop centers, where jobseekers, workers, and employers can find assistance at a single location. In addition, WIA sought to align federally funded workforce programs more closely with local labor market needs by establishing local workforce investment boards to develop policy and oversee service delivery for local areas within a state and required that local business representatives constitute the majority membership on these boards. Today, about 600 local workforce boards oversee the service delivery efforts of about 1,800 one-stop centers that provide access to all required programs.

Despite the vision of collaboration between local employers and the workforce investment system, we and others have found that collaboration can be challenging. For example, in previous reports, we found that some employers have limited interaction with or knowledge of this system and that employers who do use the one-stop centers mainly do so to fill their needs for low-skilled workers. This testimony is based on our report, which was released yesterday, entitled Workforce Investment Act: Innovative Collaborations between Workforce Boards and Employers Helped Meet Local Needs.

For further information regarding this testimony, please contact Andrew Sherrill (202) 512-7215 or

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