Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill Increases Federal Spending for Workforce and Education

Last week, President Obama signed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which details discretionary federal funding through September 30, 2016. Among several policy items and funding details for areas such as energy, homeland security, and health and human services, the bill includes increased funding and policy reforms for workforce development and education. Overall, the omnibus bill provides $12.18 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Labor and $68 billion for the Department of Education, respective increases of $234.6 million and $1.2 billion from FY 2015.

Included in the provisions of these increases are several key elements with the potential to impact programs and services for out-of-school and out-of-work young people. For instance, it allocates $10.06 billion for state and local community funding for employment training programs and unemployment insurance. This includes a $42 million increase for youth programs that are consistent with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and allows for statewide support of sector partnerships and career pathways. The bill also allocates $90 million for Registered Apprenticeship grants and $1.69 billion to the Office of Job Corps. The YouthBuild program for students who have dropped out of high school will receive a $5 million increase, and One-Stop Career Centers will receive a $7.5 million increase.

Through funds allocated to the Department of Education, the bill will increase the maximum Pell grant award to $5,915 and restore maximum Pell grant eligibility to “Ability-to-Benefit” students – students who have passed a basic skills test to prove their competency to benefit from college but do not have a high school diploma or the Certificate of High School Equivalency. Funds will be increased for Science Education Partnership awards to programs that establish strong career pipelines through biomedical sciences education, and funding for programs to improve college and career readiness for Native American Youth will receive a $20 million dollar increase.

Many of the programs that will be supported by this increased funding align with JobsFirstNYC’s 2014 policy paper, Unleashing the Economic Power of the 35 Percent. In the paper, we advocate for sector-based training and employment opportunities; apprenticeships; community-based partnerships; and one-stop education, training, and employment resources for young people. Moreover, these programs align with several of JobsFirstNYC’s initiatives for out-of-school and out-of-work 16-24 year olds, including our Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project, a collaborative of seven sectoral partnerships throughout New York City; the Bronx Opportunity Network, a college access network for students in the Bronx who would not otherwise pursue post-secondary education; and our placed-based, community-led workforce and economic development initiatives in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan and on Staten Island.

While we will continue to advocate for additional local, state, and national investments to decrease the number of out-of-school and out-of-work young people in New York City, the funding increases detailed above represent some important federal policy wins for young people and their advocates.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Elevating Youth Voices in the Workforce Development Field

This November, the Opportunity Youth Network, a network of nonprofits, businesses, philanthropy, and government whose mission is to reengage young people who are disconnected from education and employment, held its 2015 Annual Convening. At the convening, workforce and education professionals from various sectors and fields shared strategies and ideas for reconnecting the 5.5 million of out of school and out of work young people across the nation. 

One of the recurrent questions throughout the summit was: how do we meaningfully engage young people in this important work? In almost every presentation, workshop, or breakout conversation, someone mentioned the missing voice of our most important constituent – young people. At one of the most inspiring presentations of the Summit, formerly out-of-school and out-of-work young people from Opportunity Youth United, a grassroots movement of opportunity youth, presented their recommendations for increasing opportunity and decreasing poverty in the United States. The presentation highlighted the organized, evidence-based, and action-oriented approach many young people across the country are taking to improve their own social and economic circumstances as well as the circumstances of their peers. However, young people are still demanding to be heard, and leaders in our field are still searching for ways to elevate their voices.

In the first quarter of 2015, 18-to 34-year-olds surpassed Baby Boomers to become the largest share of the U.S. workforce. However, last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that only 7 percent of federal government workers were 30 years old or younger, compared with 20 percent in 1975. Furthermore, a 2011 survey of nonprofit employees throughout the US reported that only 27 percent were younger than 30 years old, and a 2012 study of nonprofit leadership found that less than 1 percent of nonprofit CEOs were under age 30, and only 5 percent were between 30 and 39 years old.

While acknowledging the importance of experience in selecting effective leadership and understanding that there should be a diverse age range of advocates in the workforce field, it does seem that the public and nonprofit sectors could and should include more young decision makers. Whether it is by hiring qualified young people at leading organizations, or supporting and investing in groups like Opportunity Youth United to ensure their prosperity and longevity, meaningful engagement with young people starts by bringing them to the table as equals. As a young adult working in this field, I see the value of an intergenerational approach to developing policy and program solutions to engage young people in school and work. Our efforts to involve young people in our work must include genuine engagement and fair compensation for their time, labor, and ideas.