Growing Equity Session 2 Recap: Supporting Workers of Color Under WIOA

On February 10th we were fortunate to be joined by Alex Camardelle, PhD of The Joint Center for the second session in our new Growing Equity Series: Building a More Equitable and Inclusive Workforce System. We invited Alex to come speak about his recent policy brief, “Principles to Support Black Workers in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.” 

Dr. Camardelle began his presentation with a personal story about why this matters to him, including his experience supporting his younger brother as he looked for help from programs for “opportunity youth.” It made me consider how mission-driven workforce development is as a field, and how so many of us have personal stories about why this work is important to us.

After hearing about The Joint Center’s research and policy agenda on the Future of Black Workers, we took a deeper dive into the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA is a “race neutral” law as it states, “WIOA is a colorblind or race-neutral policy; that is, although its purpose is to provide opportunities to previously marginalized adults, it seeks to apply solutions without consideration for race or the existence of past or present racial discrimination.” However, rarely is any law truly race neutral, particularly when it is involving systems and institutions (such as education) that have histories of suppressing or oppressing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Dr. Camardelle shared several statistics showing that Black workers are disproportionately represented among those receiving WIOA services. Additionally, WIOA outcomes for Black and Latino workers replicate racial disparities that already exist in earnings gaps and access to high paying jobs. Clearly, more attention needs to be paid to why WIOA isn’t leading to more successful outcomes for workers of color. 

Dr. Camardelle laid out 5 principles that can be implemented at state and local levels even without any official changes to WIOA or waiting for its reauthorization: 

  1. WIOA guardrails must be put in place to protect Black workers from occupational segregation.
  2. WIOA must explicitly acknowledge discrimination in hiring and in the workplace.
  3. WIOA must compensate Black workers shouldering the opportunity costs of training.
  4. WIOA must invest in data systems that track program-level outcomes for Black workers.
  5. Black job seekers must share power with workforce system decision-makers.

Workforce practitioners on the webinar shared that this information was helpful for them to understand how more attention needs to be paid to how local training programs and services are either reinforcing race/ethnic disparities or helping to dismantle them. Some participants shared that they plan to incorporate job seekers into their boards or advisory boards; others shared that they plan to bring this information back to their colleagues and think differently about how they look at the data they collect and the training programs they offer. The more we all understand how our workforce system impacts individuals, the more capable we will be at improving it.

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