We recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the National Association of Workforce Boards’ (NAWB) annual forum, which was attended by more than 1,400 workforce development champions from around the country.
This year’s theme was “advancing workforce innovation,” which allowed for a strategic focus on the major policy changes resulting from the new federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that will go into effect on July 1, 2015.
We were fortunate to hear from U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, whose department is overseeing implementation of the new law. In a rousing speech, Secretary Perez said: “We have the opportunity now to build a skills superhighway and that’s exactly what the Opportunity Act is doing.”
He went on to describe the principles of the “superhighway,” saying they include being demand-driven and focused on sector-strategies; creating strong pathways from post-secondary schools into the workforce; supporting the expansion of apprenticeships in both the trades and other sectors, like Information Communication Technology (ICT); and helping redesign the high school experience so students are better prepared for both college and career.
I am proud to say that the Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County has understood the value of these principles and has been engaged in this type of work for the last several years. As a result, we are well positioned to implement the forthcoming regulations that will further support the goals and strategies that guide how we deliver our programs and services.
The fact that the Opportunity Act places a strong emphasis on regional collaboration further validates the efforts that the WDB has undertaken to work across the entire East Bay. Building and leveraging strategic partnerships with the business community, education, community-based organizations, policymakers and others will maximize our effectiveness and yield greater outcomes for job seekers and businesses in the regional economy.
The NAWB forum has further inspired the WDB to work even more closely with our primary stakeholders to advance workforce innovation in Contra Costa County. Over the next few months, we’ll better understand what the new federal changes mean for us locally. What we can be confident about is that the new Opportunity Act will, indeed, yield greater opportunities for workforce and economic development – and shared prosperity – in the East Bay.