The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) helps job seekers access the services they need to succeed in employment and connect employers with skilled workers needed for global economic competition. The first major reform of the nation’s workforce system in 15 years, it was enacted to address certain problems facing the U.S. workforce, including significant projected shortages in the necessary numbers of workers with postsecondary education and lack of workforce participation by individuals with disabilities.
WIOA superseded the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) and amended existing laws, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which authorizes the nation’s vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, to emphasize employer engagement. For example, under the VR program, it facilitates more opportunities to help employers provide work-based learning for people with disabilities (e.g., apprenticeships and internships). Furthermore, while WIA said only that the VR system could use money to educate employers on the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and inform them of the existence of the VR program, WIOA facilitates a wide range of activities geared toward actually understanding and meeting employers’ workforce needs.
WIOA also increases services to youth with disabilities by emphasizing the need for youth with disabilities to have more opportunities to practice workplace skills, exercise self-determination in career interests and get work-based experience. To satisfy this need, state VR agencies are required to offer pre-employment transition services to all students with disabilities (setting aside at least 15 percent of federal VR program funds to do so). Moreover, WIOA allows VR agencies to prioritize serving students with disabilities; support advanced training in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as well as other technical professions; and emphasize competitive integrated employment in supported and customized employment programs.
WIOA also establishes some new requirements for ensuring collaboration among relevant stakeholders at federal and state levels. For up-to-date information on new regulations, timelines for implementation and resources, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s WIOA webpage or U.S. Department of Education WIOA webpage.