By Susan H. Hildreth
Congress recently took a giant leap forward to improve the delivery of job training and workforce development by passing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA). Overwhelmingly approved by both the House and the Senate and supported by the President, the legislation is the result of a bipartisan agreement that recognizes the vital role our government plays in providing the services and resources job seekers need to access the kinds of skills training, career information, and education that are required for today’s job market.
The bill includes several exciting changes that update past workforce development laws and better coordinate federal resources by modernizing job training and identifying strategic workforce investments. IMLS has long recognized and supported the services libraries provide to help the American workforce rebound. And it is especially gratifying to see lawmakers from both sides of the aisle acknowledge the essential connection of public libraries to communities as career improvement partners in WIOA.
For public libraries, the new bill identifies them as eligible for funds as One-Stop partners with the ability to provide an expansive array of job search services. Also, it recognizes libraries as important providers of federally supported training and employment services for adult education and literacy. The legislation instructs State and Local Workforce Development Boards to boost “digital literacy skills” at training centers—the very definition of “digital literacy” originates from the law that created IMLS and is referenced in WIOA!
We are delighted that the public library’s role in improving our workforce development system has been acknowledged. IMLS will continue to support this work with public and private partnerships and grants. As an example, we recently partnered with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) to assist the estimated 3 million Americans who are seeking access to federal job information, education, and training by connecting them through resources at their public libraries. We are also partnering with the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (ETA) to highlight effective practices and encourage additional collaboration between the workforce investment system and public libraries.
Every day, people in communities across the U.S. are using libraries to access the Web for career development—participating in GED institutes, improving their English literacy and digital literacy, and finding work.
We applaud Congress, especially longtime library supporters Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) and Rep. Rush Holt (NJ), on passing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 and for President Obama’s continued leadership in assisting American workers and employers. We also thank them for what it will do to serve our nation’s job seekers and help libraries be better equipped to contribute to the country’s economic vitality.
Ed note: This post was revised on July 17, 2014 to include the IMLS partnership with U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (ETA).