Skills and training

Navigating Public Job Training

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The future of work depends on employees being able to acquire new skills that will allow them to enter new occupations. However, policymakers, economic developers, and workforce practitioners need more information about the use of federal dollars to support more robust job training.

This report delves into the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the primary federal program that funds short-term, job-focused trainings for adults. WIOA’s training provision is highly decentralized, encompassing more than 75,000 training programs in more than 700 occupational fields. Each state or territory is responsible for developing a list of training programs eligible to receive federal funds in its jurisdiction. This report aims to better understand how well this system is performing relative to the goal of providing training services for in-demand jobs that boost participants’ earnings.

The authors combine training provider and program data from the US Department of Labor with performance records and occupational data to study the types of providers receiving WIOA funding and the types of jobs for which they provide training. The report also reviews state websites for all 50 states to understand how program information is presented to potential enrollees. 

Their primary findings include:

  • Federal funding for job training is small compared with the funding available for traditional higher education, and the dollars are widely dispersed. The average Eligible Training Provider (ETP) program enrolled just three WIOA–funded learners per year, corresponding to around $6,000 total in training revenue for the provider.
  • The landscape of ETP offerings is vast, fragmented, and hard to navigate, and performance information at the provider level is minimal and of questionable accuracy.
  • Job quality remains a challenge for WIOA–eligible job training providers. Many of the most common programs of study lead to low-wage jobs. Federally funded job training programs may contribute to occupational segregation, as we find that women and participants of color are more likely to enroll in ETP programs linked to low wages.
  • The system performs relatively better on prioritizing in-demand occupations. Fifty-four percent of programs eligible to receive WIOA funds are in occupations that are expected to grow in the coming decade.
  • State and federal policymakers should consider long-term public investment prioritizing building technological infrastructure and increasing human support for career navigation. Public funding models for short-term training beyond consumer choice programs are also needed. In addition, there is a need for policy innovation to ensure that existing public dollars support high-quality training options, including rethinking provider eligibility criteria, revamping data systems, and improving information accessibility.