Recently, in a well-attended conference at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, I joined leaders from the Southeastern states (and a few seven-footers who invaded the place for the AACC Conference basketball championship) at the SETA Conference. As one might imagine, workshop sessions explored every facet of the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and folks gathered from far and wide to learn about the changes and opportunities its implementation represents.
I was asked to prepare an important workshop: “One Stop Program Integration and Service Alignment to Support WIOA,” which drew a standing-room-only crowd.
Integration is a “holy grail” that many of us veterans of the workforce system have been pursuing since the passage of the Workforce Investment Act in the nineties. It has been an elusive goal for many – held hostage to a complex web of programs, funding streams and constituencies that see “integration” as code for program cuts and loss of influence within their own ‘turf.’ Too often in the past, these barriers proved all too difficult to overcome. Initiatives fizzled. Resources were squandered. Customers were left to navigate a complicated path that, too often, left them with uneven and inadequate access to the services they need.
This session was a bit different. We talked honestly, we acknowledged the challenges, but we also talked about the need to make this time different – if we possibly could. There is, after all, a new law and even more importantly, a new reality that the “old way” just is not going to get it done for the current generation, let alone our next.
So, those of us packed into that room at SETA went to work…
There is a debate unfolding about whether WIOA is a transformational law, or whether is just “tweaks” WIA. I believe the law is as transformational as state and local leaders want to make it. The session at SETA holds promise as leaders were engaged and want to improve our System even as they battle the skepticism born of the knowledge that we have all been “here” before.
But have we really been here before? Integration is no longer policy or a vision for a few innovative overachievers. It is now the law, which is maybe the catalyst we have all been waiting for.
Thanks to the people I met at SETA, I can see this time may really be different. We can only hope this will be the break through moment we’ve all been waiting for.
So, if you call yourself a leader, now would be a good time to lead. Future generations will, no doubt, evaluate how well we all do so.