Arkansas Gets WIOA-Quick Start: Statewide Conference Offers On-Ramp to WIOA Success | Maher & Maher
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Arkansas Gets WIOA-Quick Start: Statewide Conference Offers On-Ramp to WIOA Success

Last week I had the honor of working with nearly 500 professionals from across a broad array of partners in Little Rock, Arkansas in the state’s first, wide-scale planning meeting for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). We were packed into every square inch of our hotel space – a challenge for our team of facilitators. Importantly, our job was made easier by the willingness of those present to "dive in" to the serious business of implementing the new law.

The audience included all the usual attendees – Board members, WIA and Wagner-Peyser staff, community colleges and CBOs – but also a strong showing from "new" WIOA partners in Rehabilitation Services, TANF, Registered Apprenticeship and more.

It was my job to convey the essential elements of the new legislation, give folks an overview of how the Law would change the way we do business and encourage them to get moving now to reconfigure boards, define economic regions and form planning teams. In many parts of the country, I explained, this work has already started in earnest, and there is simply no more time to waste.

talent pipeline graphicBut I pushed beyond the terms of the law to ask folks to consider a vision of a transformed workforce development system in a "post-WIOA" world. In essence, I offered my "I have a Dream" speech. I talked of a workforce system that was more impactful, more integrated, more future-focused and more effective in helping to build a "talent supply chain" for targeted sectors -- driving economic prosperity for communities across Arkansas. The resulting talent pipeline would alter all of our jobs – from the Board member, to the One Stop Manager, the job counselor and business rep. It would need to provide pathways for ALL job seekers, even the hardest to serve.

After a robust discussion with the large group, folks broke into planning teams (regionally focused) and began to create a "plan to plan" – something they would begin to act on and expand when returning home.

A few key themes came from this meeting that I thought were worthy of sharing:

  • Proceed Until Apprehended! WIOA will be as transformational as state and local leaders make it, but there is a real need for the workforce system to become a talent engine for regional economies. That will require moving forcefully and boldly. This is one of those times when leaders … well, lead. Don’t wait for complete clarity from Washington. Start now and adjust. Be bold.
  • Build Strong Partnerships Now. WIOA brings new mandatory partners into the workforce system and we should be working NOW to open a dialogue and build shared vision, create understanding about roles and responsibilities, and to create trust. Early discussions now will make it easier to address tougher issues later (like cost-sharing MOUs, team-based case management and more).AK Presentation photo
  • Don’t Reinvent the Wheel – Find Emerging Best Practices and Bring Them to Scale. I’ve been talking about a "talent pipeline" for too long now. In truth, it isn’t a new idea anymore and many people are doing something like it in regions and local areas around the country. You can find shining examples of excellence in your state – believe me. We don’t need to create these solutions from scratch. Solutions exist. We need to find them, promote them, and bring them to scale.

The Arkansas folks I had a chance to meet last week in Little Rock were engaged, interested and willing. They WANT to do a great job with WIOA and they are willing to change to realize their version of a post-WIOA world for workforce development. They are out of the starting blocks and have a path forward. Now the work begins! We wish them great success along the way.

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