Congressional efforts to support workforce development skills embrace afterschool and summer learning


Congressional efforts to support workforce development skills embrace afterschool and summer learning

As Congress begins the process of reauthorizing our nation’s most comprehensive legislation designed to strengthen and improve our nation’s workforce – the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) – it is encouraging to see bills recently introduced that recognize the valuable role that afterschool and summer programs can play in supporting accessible youth pathways to jobs.

  • Youth Workforce Readiness Act - On May 17, Reps. Josh Harder (D-Calif.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Oregon) introduced the bipartisan Youth Workforce Readiness Act (HR 3416), which supports early and holistic workforce development opportunities. A companion bill to the one introduced in the Senate (S. 454) earlier this year, this legislation would establish a grant for eligible afterschool programs to equip the next generation with the skills they'll need to succeed in the workforce. Afterschool programs build knowledge and skills, help  support young people, and enable learning experiences that will help students thrive in good-paying jobs when they grow up. The Youth Workforce Readiness Act would support a wide array of education offerings at afterschool programs, including:
    • Leadership development opportunities, financial literacy lessons, and entrepreneurial skills training
    • Helping teens obtain summer employment, pre-apprenticeship, and apprenticeship opportunities
    • Learning employability skills like communication, collaboration, and critical thinking
    • Mentorship opportunities, career counseling and exploration, and academic counseling
    • Occupation skills training with a focus on training programs that are aligned with good-paying, in-demand jobs in the local economy
  • 21st Century Youth Entrepreneur Act – On April 20 the bipartisan 21st Century Entrepreneurship Act, cosponsored by Sens. Cortez-Masto (D-Nevada) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), was reintroduced. The bill would connect students enrolled in 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) with mentors from the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) to help them develop professional skills in entrepreneurship. Specifically, this bipartisan bill would require the Small Business Administration (SBA) to develop an entrepreneurship curriculum for 21st CCLC and encourage SCORE volunteers to partner with local chapters to provide training and mentorship. It would also amend the Small Business Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure these partnerships fall within the mission of each agency. 
  • Assisting in Developing (AID) Youth Employment Act - On April 27, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), along with Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senator Duckworth (D-Ill.), reintroduced the Assisting in Developing (AID) Youth Employment Act (S. 1270/HR 2840), previously titled the Creating Pathways for Youth Employment Act. The bill would make it easier for local governments and community organizations to apply directly for federal funding to create and expand summer and year-round employment programs for young people. The legislation would establish a five-year competitive grant program for youth summer employment that also incorporate access to trauma-informed mentorship, as well as job coaches. The grant program would provide planning grants of up to $250,000 for 12 months or implementation grants of up to $6 million over three years.

WIOA, the largest and most comprehensive piece of federal legislation governing federal workforce supports, was last reauthorized in 2014 and is due for a reauthorization. On May 11, the House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development held a hearing, “Examining America’s Workforce Challenges: Looking For Ways To Improve Skills Development.” The sub-committee Chair Burgess Owens (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) both mentioned that workforce legislation is often bipartisan in nature. The conversation included topics on partnerships, the global economy, apprenticeships, artificial intelligence, basic skills training, re-skilling and up-skilling, streamlining systems, accountability, and investment. During the question and answer period of the hearing, Ranking Member Wilson requested a future hearing on youth workforce investments.

In addition to the hearing, the House Education and Workforce Committee is currently taking suggestions on what a reauthorized WIOA could look like. The Afterschool Alliance is submitting comments that are intended to help the committee strengthen the legislation’s focus on accessible youth pathways to the jobs by making the case that community partners in youth development, such as afterschool and summer programs, are key partners in career pathway efforts. This includes supporting early career exposure, providing essential wrap-around services for equity, developing foundational and employability skills, offering programming at additional times and spaces for youth outside of career and technical schools, working with businesses and youth to elevate a youth development lens, and supporting youth with entering non-traditional fields. While workforce issues and solutions continue to garner a significant amount of bipartisan support and afterschool is already playing an important role, examples of programs in career development work always help make the case for attention and investment in our space clearer. The Alliance has collected a number of examples. If your program is doing this work, please feel free to share.