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Congressional hearing discusses the role of afterschool in workforce development

By Erik Peterson

On Thursday, June 15, the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development convened a hearing titled, “Helping Americans Get Back to Work: Implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).” Part of the conversation centered on the positive role of afterschool programs in helping develop student employability and life skills.

The hearing was held in conjunction with President Trump’s “Workforce Development Week” – an effort by the administration to highlight job training programs and apprenticeships. Despite the bipartisan praise of these programs, in the FY 2018 budget request, President Trump reduces the Department of Labor (DOL) budget by 21 percent, with significant cuts to job training and employment grants, JobCorps programs, and job training for seniors.

The budget calls for significant reductions in funding for key workforce programs under WIOA, which was reauthorized by Congress in 2014, and approximately $1 billion in cuts to Title I of WIOA – an almost 40 percent cut from current funding levels. Panelists and members of Congress were quick to point out the efficacy and return on investment of WIOA programs bridging the skills gap in the economy, helping different stakeholders coordinate services, and serving vulnerable populations as they enter and stay in the job market.

Subcommittee Chairman Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) kicked off the hearing by speaking to the bipartisan nature of WIOA. He noted that prior to the passage of WIOA, the federal government had more than 47 separate but overlapping employment education programs across nine different federal agencies.

Louis Dubin’s testimony covered his role as chairman of the governor’s Workforce Development Board in Maryland and the board’s main goal of building partnerships between different sectors of the state – including private industry, education organizations, community and faith-based organizations, and state agencies – to ensure that all aspects of the workforce ecosystem are represented. In his view, the economic development discussion should center on aligning the talent pipeline with business needs, while states should engage middle- and high-school students in work study programs to introduce them to real-world experiences. Specifically, he noted Baltimore’s Living Classrooms Program and Pennsylvania’s SHINE afterschool program as exemplary programs that connect students with industries and earn them college credit.

As apprenticeship programs move beyond construction and expanding to high-growth sectors such as information technology, healthcare, and cybersecurity, afterschool programs are following suit. Dubin highlighted Digital Harbor, an afterschool program in Baltimore, Maryland that enrolls youth in advanced courses in fabrication, programming, and electronics.

During members’ time for questions, Rep. Barletta (R-Penn.) touted the SHINE afterschool program and noted its ability to connect students with career technical education (CTE) skills and programs at a much earlier age. He asked Dubin to comment on whether programs like this help reduce the stigma of CTE to attract more students and how workforce boards can use the WIOA framework to enhance these kinds of partnerships.

Dubin acknowledged that lack of funding for CTE programs has been an issue in Maryland, along with stigma in the education field: education professionals can be reluctant to guide students towards a “tracked” pathway. He suggested bringing superintendents to the table early on so that they can see the benefit of students working with afterschool programs and other types of apprenticeship programs to learn a variety of skills—not just technical skills.

To learn more about WIOA, CTE, workforce development and afterschool programs, see the Afterschool Alliance’s Career Pathways webpage. Additionally, access the archived webcast and check out a press release recap of the hearing.