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Improving skills through America’s workforce development system

Policymakers at the state and federal levels have expressed concern over the emerging ‘skills gap’ – the mismatch between the job skills employers are looking for and the skills that applicants in the labor market possess. The skills gap is most acute for middle-skilled jobs; that is, jobs that require training beyond high school but less than a four-year college degree program. According to analysis by the National Skills Coalition, middle-skilled jobs account for 53 per cent of the United States labor market, yet only 43 per cent of the labor force is trained to the middle-skill level. Some estimates have concluded the skills gap costs the US economy $160 billion annually in terms of unfilled labor output, reduced productivity, and depressed earnings. To address these labor market challenges, many have turned to America’s workforce development system., Recent efforts from Congress and the White House confirm that policymakers are serious about expanding job-training opportunities. But even with the heightened focus, a shockingly small percentage of individuals leveraging the workforce system combine available Department of Labor training funds with money from other federal and state programs – despite that many more might qualify for additional aid. Incongruent bureaucratic processes commonly inhibit the effectiveness of workforce training, and policy requirements are not clearly communicated to training seekers, financial aid administrators, and private entities. If the goal is to increase the number of job seekers that participate in high-quality training programs, more can be done to improve the coordination between the Department of Labor and these groups. This report offers recommendations for enhancing the federal workforce development system by reviewing and identifying inefficiencies in the current system. It concludes by forwarding several policy suggestions aimed at improving the way that Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding is used by job seekers and training providers.