Workforce System Investment and Transformation Are Critical to Economic Recovery


JFF urges leaders in Congress and the Biden administration to adopt policies that revitalize and overhaul the U.S. workforce and postsecondary education systems.

Published apr. 07, 2021

The American workforce development system is a crucial piece of our country’s economic mobility puzzle, however it is undervalued, underfunded, and in need of modernization.

JFF calls on leaders in Congress and the Biden administration to support programs that revitalize the workforce system and enable it to meet the complex needs of today’s workers and employers.

Workforce boards, community colleges, and other providers of high-quality services have long played critical roles in helping displaced workers access the labor market information, career navigation services, and skills training they need to pursue new in-demand employment opportunities. And as the country recovers from the pandemic-driven economic and health care crises, the U.S. workforce development and postsecondary education systems have become more important than ever, but both were overdue for transformation before the COVID-19 outbreak.

The pandemic has exposed, and exponentially increased, the need for an overhaul, as millions of out-of-work Americans seek opportunities to develop new skills, rejoin the workforce, and pursue new career opportunities. Federal policymakers must learn from this crisis and harness the momentum building up behind the calls for the kinds of changes that are necessary for the economy to rebound, employers to remain competitive, and workers to survive. This type of action is essential if we want to kick-start an equitable economic recovery that lifts up all Americans—especially those who are suffering the greatest economic hardships: low-wage earners and individuals with no postsecondary credentials, many of whom are Black, Latinx, or members of other underrepresented populations.

JFF has developed a list of nine steps policymakers can take to transform our nation’s workforce development system and promote the changes necessary to ensure that individuals, businesses, and communities can rebound and advance.

Here’s a rundown of those recommendations, which we discussed in detail in a recent brief:

  • Significantly Increase investments in America’s workforce at levels that support the economic needs of workers and the skill needs of employers.
  • Make systems changes to modernize the nation’s workforce development system and transform the delivery of education and training in ways that allow workers to complete their classes at an accelerated pace.
  • Develop a robust career navigation system that helps students, parents, jobseekers, and workers make well-informed choices about education, career paths, and employment.
  • Create a lifelong learning system that increases funding for skills development, transforms the structure and delivery of education and skills training, builds and scales sector-focused and career pathways systems, and creates federal-state partnership grants for postsecondary education.
  • Ensure that U.S. workers are protected in times of transition by enacting reforms in unemployment insurance that include expanded eligibility for benefits.
  • Ensure the quality of education and training programs as the country experiences a significant increase in demand for short-term occupational skills training tied to in-demand jobs.
  • Encourage employer engagement in the design and delivery of occupationally focused programs, and in the training and education of their own frontline workers.
  • Target programming to individuals facing barriers to education and employment to help them successfully attain the skills and credentials they need to prepare for in-demand, family-supporting careers.
  • Increase investments in and programming for opportunity youth that create strong bridges between education and employment and address the need for affordable high-quality postsecondary education and training opportunities.

These recommendations come at a critical point in our history. Now is the time to transform the nation’s talent development system, beginning with secondary, postsecondary, and adult education, and extending through the workforce and poverty alleviation systems and other programs to ensure that our economy rebounds and thrives.

By increasing resources for skills development, modernizing career navigation, helping people along their career pathways, providing necessary transition assistance for displaced workers, and ensuring that our nation’s most underserved populations can succeed, we can build back better.

As federal policymakers develop plans for recovery, like the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan, it is important that they consider policy changes that prioritize the provision of high-quality skills development opportunities and the essential supports individuals need for success and advancement. JFF urges our leaders in Congress and the Biden administration to take action and create a workforce system that works.

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