New Dawn for Career Development: Announcing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

By V. Scott Solberg, Eleanor Castine, and Bridget Brown

On July 22, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA, 2014) and released the Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity (2014) report which outlines the administration’s efforts to ensure that federally funded training programs prepare more Americans to be ready to work with marketable skills. In today’s volatile economy, the job market shifts and turns demand that individuals prepare to move through occupations and careers. Therefore, it is essential that youth and adults focus time and effort on developing a wide range of interests and skills that are transferrable across several career paths. WIOA appears to recognize this shift and considers the primary purpose of adult education is to prepare youth and adults with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce. As such, WIOA has codified what we have always known - lifelong access to career development programs and services are critical to enabling youth and adults to take advantage of the many career pathways open to them.


At the 2014 annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Rhonda Basha from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and Curtis Richards from the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth described key elements and opportunities from the WIOA in a meeting with the Society for Vocational Psychology (Basha & Richards, 2014). The details of this article draw heavily from their presentation. The first important feature of WIOA is that four of the core programs have been aligned by detailing joint planning requirements and common performance outcome measures. These four programs are the (a) Adult, Dislocated Worker and Youth formula programs administered by the Department of Labor (DOL) under Title I; (b) Adult Education and Literacy program administered by the Department of Education (ED) under Title II; (c) Wagner-Peyser Act employment services program administered by DOL under Title III; and (d) programs under Title I of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act administered by ED under Title IV.


Career Development Terms Prominent in the New Legislation

An additional focus has been placed on career development in the new legislation. While included as an allowable activity under current law, it was not clearly defined. WIOA adds additional definition to two key career development areas under allowable services: (a) Career planning which refers to proving “client-centered” services across a range of workforce investment activities that specifically includes “career counseling” to find employment and access to career counseling after employment; and (b) career pathways which includes access to “counseling” to support individuals ability to successfully pursue academic and career goals.


Shifts in Service Delivery that Increase Need for Career Professionals

While it is early to realize the full implications of adding career development services and activities into workforce development programs and activities, three immediate opportunities seem clear. First, programs and activities falling under Adult Education now call for career and workforce development activities to become integrated within literacy and civics education programs, especially to incorporate individualized education and career planning. Second, within Vocational Rehabilitation, more emphasis will be placed on supporting the academic and career transition readiness needs of youth with disabilities and providing them access to career counseling and work-based learning opportunities. And third, a significant increase in effort will be placed on supporting “opportunity youth,” the significant numbers of youth who are currently out of school and not working. Significant emphasis will be on providing career counseling and creating work-based learning opportunities as well as activities that increase financial literacy.


In recent months, the Administration also has placed an emphasis on improving the quality and quantity of labor market information provided to youth and adults in an effort to improve their career decision-making efforts. Too often, individuals do not have access to all of the career possibilities, including those careers that may be non-traditional in nature or that may require less than a four year degree such as apprenticeships. This is where a highly skilled and educated career counselor can make all of the difference in efforts to ensure success in our programs.



How Advocacy Worked

While no one person or event is responsible for career development language being prominently represented in WIOA, there have been a range of advocacy efforts for many years that certainly created the context for affirming the importance of career development as a critical component to education and workforce development. Whiston and Blustein (2013) outlined a case for the value of having access to career “interventions” on behalf of the Society for Vocational Psychology (SVP) and the National Career Development Association (NCDA). Nationally, the majority of states have incorporated career development activities as part of their college and career readiness efforts by having middle and high school youth develop individualized academic and career plans (ODEP, 2014). And, other organizations have played a role such as the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals advocating for better support the tremendous number of youth who are out of school and out of work and the National Collaborative for Workforce and Disability for Youth advocating for increasing the workforce readiness support to youth with disabilities.


Key reports and research also help to make a case for the value of providing youth and adults with access to quality career development programs and activities. Belfield, Levin and Rosen (2012) and Moroto and Pettinicchio (in press) offer two important reports that highlight the vulnerabilities and economic challenges associated with opportunity youth and youth with disabilities, respectively. Belfield et al. estimate the trillions of dollars in lost capital that results from the large number of youth who are neither in school nor working. Moroto and Pettincchio found that the employment rates and income levels of adults with disabilities continues to decrease despite federal efforts. Finally, Symonds, Schwartz, and Ferguson (2011) published an important report on the importance of helping youth identify career pathways that enable them to secure the post-secondary training and education programs needed to secure employment that offers livable wages. There are countless other influences and unheralded heroes that deserve mention. In addition, it is worth a mention to every career counselor who reached out to their elected officials during this long 11-year process to advocate on behalf of career development programs.


Next Steps

As career professionals and researchers, we need to be ready to support our states in the successful implementation of career development programs and activities. Having the new language in the legislation is a great first step. Success, however, is also dependent upon ensuring that the legislation received appropriate funding and that regulations are developed in a manner that enhances career services. Over the next year, there will be a number of listening sessions and opportunities to provide feedback at the federal level to WIOA. Closely monitor NCDA to find out how to become involved. Consider reaching out to our state and local agencies that engage in workforce development such as your Workforce Development Boards in your area as well as state officers involved in implementing the various sections of WIOA. Some of the opportunities for NCDA and SVP career professionals and researchers include the design and implementation of professional development to help employment counselors incorporate career development activities into their service delivery models, developing and testing the efficacy of career development programs and activities for different populations, and program evaluation to evaluate whether and how these programs and activities are having an impact on key education and workforce outcomes. By providing access to career counseling during program participation and after job placement, it seems an especially opportune moment in our history to fully test our new theories of career counseling. And, at some point, discussions related to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will resurface and it will be important to support efforts to have career development language inserted.





Belfield, C. R., Levin, H. M., & Rosen, R. (2012). The economic value of opportunity youth. Civic Enterprises. Retrieved from: http://www.civicenterprises.net/MediaLibrary/Docs/econ_value_opportunity_youth.pdf.

Moroto, M. & Pettinicchio, D. (in press). The Limitations of Disability Antidiscrimination Legislation: Policymaking and the Economic Well-being of People with Disabilities. Journal of Law and Policy.


Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/skills_report.pdf.

Symonds, W. C., Schwartz, R. B. & Ferguson, R. (February 2011). Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century. Report issued by the Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/features/2011/Pathways_to_Prosperity_Feb2011.pdf

Whiston, S. C., & Blustein, D. L. (2013). The impact of career interventions: Preparing our citizens for the 21st century jobs. (Research Report). National Career Development Association and the Society for Vocational Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.ncda.org/"margin-bottom: 0in;"> 

Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, Public Law No: 113-128 (July, 2014).



V. Scott H. Solberg, Ph.D., is professor of counseling and human development at Boston University where he continues to conduct research on the design and implementation of career development programs and activities at national, state, and local levels.  His work on individualized learning plans in collaboration with the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth can be found at http://ncwd-youth.info/ilp and recent launch of the Massachusetts Institute for College and Career Readiness can be found at http://sites.bu.edu/miccr. He can be reached at ssolberg@bu.edu


Eleanor Castine is a doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at Boston University. She received her master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Loyola University of Maryland and her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Virginia. Ellie serves as the student representative on the executive board of APA Division 17’s Society of Vocational Psychology. Her research interests include children’s career development and underserved youth and adolescents. She can be reached at ecastine@bu.edu.


Bridget Brown is the Executive Director of the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP).  Prior to her role at NAWDP, she was the Executive Director of America’s Career Resource Network Association where she focused her efforts on improving the quality and availability of labor and career information that is provided to schools, prisons, and workforce centers.  She served as the Director of Program Development for the National Skill Standards Board at the U.S. Department of Labor, was the project co-director of the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council, and was Associate Director of Government Relations for the American Vocational Association. She is a Certified Workforce Development Professional (CWDP), a Global Career Development Facilitator Instructor (CGDFI). She can be reached at Bridget@nawdp.org

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Niel carey   on Tuesday 09/02/2014 at 09:57 AM

Thanks for this excellent summary of legislation which is of considerable interest and importance to many NCDA members. NCDA joined many other organizations in supporting this legislation which was passed by both the House and Senate by overwhelming majorities.

Louise Skelton   on Wednesday 09/03/2014 at 01:10 AM

An enlightening and positive article, these initiatives give hope to all Career Practitioners to be given the scope and opportunity to provide the best career services to those in need.

Lisa Raufman   on Monday 09/08/2014 at 01:12 AM

This article is a resource for all career development professionals. This is very exciting news for our profession. Now is the time to plan strategies for career practitioners to join forces with workforce development teams.

I would like to see this article shared in all state career development association's websites!

California Career Development Association will be highlighting this legislation at its November 7th conference at Moorpark College!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.