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- How Indiana Can Best Capitalize on a New Opportunity to Set Hoosiers on a Path to Success
Thursday, December 13, 2018
Nearly four years ago, the federal government undertook the task of guiding and supporting states in building bridges between the workforce – and especially, particular and vulnerable groups in the workforce – and the training and supports necessary to land better job opportunities. It passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which funded our nation’s workforce development programs and required states to write a plan for how they would interconnect these systems. The Act gave them two options for plan structure.
After WIOA was signed into law, everyone who advocates for strong workforce policy mopped their brows, those who made wagers that it would never pass paid their debts, and then we took a deep breath and went straight to work advocating for strong state-level implementation.
The Institute and the Indiana Skills2Compete coalition were no exception. One of the possibilities we were most excited about was the “combined state plan.” Combined plans offer more nuanced and robust workforce investment options to states through additional partnership and blended funding opportunities as well as an expanded base of populations (like veterans, low-income families, and formerly incarcerated adults) to serve through workforce programming. This plan structure also offered an opportunity to get more of the agencies and programs that intersect with workforce development to sit down together and have a coordinated strategy to better serve their constituencies.
The other option was a “unified state plan.” WIOA requires unified plan to create a four-year strategy for six core programs – the Adult, Dislocated Worker and Youth programs (Title I), the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act program (Title II), the Wagner-Peyser Act program, and the Vocational Rehabilitation program. WIOA requires combined state plans to include all the above programs and one or more additional partner programs, such as TANF, SNAP E&T, Perkins Career and Technical Education, among others.
Indiana went with a unified plan for our first go-round of WIOA implementation. However, as the time is drawing near to begin thinking about what the next WIOA State Plan will look like, many advocates and practitioners alike are coming to the realization that we can’t meet post-secondary attainment goals and labor force participation goals without a focus on adults, including special attention on those with barriers and /or low-incomes. In fact, the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet has proposed the development of a combined WIOA state plan for the next round.
The Institute could not applaud this recommendation more. As we’ve discussed in Clearing the Jobs Pathway, adults with low incomes and training needs require solid workforce programs and social safety net programs to get on a path to self-sufficiency. The chart below, showing the rates of poverty for each level of educational attainment shows a strong correlation between poverty and level of educational attainment. We have documented not only in last year’s paper (mentioned above), but also in last week’s blog post that in order to succeed in post-secondary education, adults and other non-traditional students need help mitigating the barriers standing in their way such as child care, housing, and transportation.
But Indiana also needs for these adults to succeed in post-secondary attainment and in the jobs market if it is to reach its goals. What better way to accomplish strategic workforce development and overcoming barriers to entry than to create a combined plan, which would enable us to coordinate programs, improve service deliver, leverage and blend funding streams – in short, create a real, multi-agency strategic plan for how all these puzzle pieces should fit together?
Luckily, Indiana is not alone in the wilderness as it thinks through what a combined plan should include and how it can be structured. Many states already have combined plans in place and we can learn from them what works and what doesn’t. While this blog is not an exhaustive list of our concerns and recommendations, it outlines below some of the practices that we find promising, as well as areas we should learn more about and take time to consider as we pull together our combined plan. 
First and foremost, we must give careful consideration to which programs we include in the plan. If we are going to take the time and effort to undertake a combined plan in Indiana, it MUST include TANF and SNAP E&T. These are the programs that are always absent from the table and the strategic planning. They are key to addressing the non-academic barriers that we know are keeping Hoosiers from persisting in and completing post-secondary educational attainment. Other programs that would be wise to include are: Unemployment Insurance (especially as we near full employment), Reintegration of Ex-Offenders program, the Jobs for Veterans state grant program, among others.
As we endeavor to bring these programs together to make a combined state plan, it will be critical that they form a common vision along with goals accompanied by a detailed road map of how the specific Indiana agencies, systems and partners intend to achieve each goal laid out in the current State Plan and what tools and metrics are tied to the associated strategies. Both Virginia’s and Pennsylvania’s plans do a good job of laying out very specific goals and strategies and laying out in detail the roles of the agencies and programs toward achieving those goals. Setting aside the notion of “Unified” vs. “Combined” plans for a second, Indiana’s current plan could use more detail in what is specifically to be achieved, who is responsible for progress, and what is the timeline for the goals therein. Our next plan should provide sufficient detail on which actors will be involved in driving progress towards each goal or the anticipated timelines of the three goals set forth. It should also indicate who is responsible for implementing future action steps to encourage collaboration and enforce timelines for implementation.
The plan should include a section on career pathways and how the Combined Plan programs will intersect with the state’s existing work on career pathways. We should be looking at what other states have done to build out this model well. Examples of state plans with strong career pathways components include Washington and Texas. Arkansas also has a strong program funded with support of TANF dollars.
Performance measures, reports, and data linkages will have to be addressed. Indiana isn’t starting at ground zero with a State Longitudinal Data system, as we do have the Management Performance Hub. We will want to look at what some states that already have a Combined Plan submitted and, perhaps more importantly, do some reconnaissance on how it went and lessons learned. This could help us identify gaps in MPH’s current system and build in support for filling those gaps. States that have promising practices on cross agency data and performance measurement include Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.
A Combined Plan is also a great opportunity to finally make progress on launching sector partnerships across the state. Indiana has been trying to do this for years and so far we have had a lot of false starts and stall outs. Despite that, there are quite a few either in operation or emerging. A Combined Plan can focus and support these partnerships. Indiana has put out good policy on sector partnerships in the past, and a Combined Plan would be a great opportunity to dust it off and implement it.
There will be plenty of administrative challenges to sort out. How will we link data systems? How can we ensure a warm hand off of Hoosiers from agency to agency, giving Hoosiers a “no wrong door” entry into these systems? Who should be trained to navigate all of these systems on behalf of the Hoosiers coming in for services and what is the best way to go about it? We will have to walk a fine line between not stifling local innovation and creating a real and actionable accountability structure that forces changes that will give us the outcomes we seek. All of this is no mean feat. But other states have done it and we can – and should - too!