Expanding Opportunity for Workers – Yes, WIOA Can!

Graduation gowns hang in front of a fireplace.
Graduation gowns at the Spring 2022 Lake Area Technical College graduation.

The federal government is making big investments in infrastructure, clean energy, manufacturing and technology – creating job opportunities around the country. And we’re helping states develop a talent pipeline to support this essential work. Key to our efforts is the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which provides $3.6 billion a year for workforce development, about $2.9 billion of which goes to states in formula funds.

Through our Yes, WIOA Can! campaign, we’ve been highlighting the accomplishments of states who have found creative ways to use WIOA funding to support workforce development efforts that target communities who have traditionally been overlooked. We’re celebrating bold, innovative thinking and effective programs. We’re encouraging programs that emphasize partnerships, job quality, access to supportive service and equity for all workers.

Partnerships Support Second Chances in South Dakota

The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation is using WIOA funding to help formerly incarcerated jobseekers get back on their feet. As Director Kendra Ringstmeyer notes, “The more support we can provide in re-entry planning, the smoother the transition for the individual returning to their community and entering the workforce.”

Partnering with other public sector and academic institutions, they’re offering short-term post-secondary credentials for incarcerated individuals. Program participants don’t just receive skills training, but help securing housing, connections to community service providers, resume and interview assistance, and job search support. One year into the program, 29 individuals have earned their certificates, and all nine students who have been released from prison received job offers before their release.

One participant wrote after leaving: “I was part of the very first cohort pursuing the Precision Machining certificate from Lake Area Technical College at the South Dakota Women’s Prison. As much as I would like to erase that part of my story, it has given me so much strength, courage, and a skill I never thought I would have… I will forever be grateful for the Precision Machining program and the support I received throughout. It came at a really dark time in my life and opened more doors than I could have imagined!”

Read more about South Dakota’s program.

Expanding Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities

In Colorado, the Department of Labor and Employment has applied WIOA resources to connect disabled workers with good jobs. Setting up intergovernmental agreements using third party cooperative arrangements enabled the Colorado Department of Labor to take advantage of state matching funds, making it possible to draw the full allotment of federal WIOA funds. The result is a fully funded program that provides wrap-around services to help people with disabilities get good jobs.

“People with disabilities are an untapped resource for employers,” says Director of Workforce Development Programs Elise Lowe-Vaughn. The Disability Program Navigator “will educate staff, stakeholders, and business partners on disability-related issues, opening doors to increased employment opportunities.”

Since they’ve launched the initiative, customer satisfaction surveys reveal a 100% satisfaction rating, with comments crediting the initiative with helping in job searches, enrollment in computer classes, providing trusted advice and finding employment.

Read more about Colorado’s program.

Both programs prove that WIOA can help build a strong, resilient economy for all workers. Learn more about the program at https://ywc.workforcegps.org/.


Robin Fernkas is the deputy administrator for workforce investment in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.