The Argument for Regionally Based Job Training Programs

Prior to passage of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) in 1973, job training programs were largely federally operated.  Moreover, they were very fragmented and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the way the programs were organized.  CETA changed all that. Though it remained federally funded, all funds were passed through to states and localities, and for the first time the job training system was locally operated through a system of “prime sponsors” – units of general purpose government such as cities or counties.

President Richard Nixon underscored this point when he signed CETA into law.  He said,  

“For the first time, [funds will] be made available to State and local governments without any Federal strings as to what kind of services or how much of those services should be provided. From now on, State and local governments will be the decision makers concerning the mix of manpower services, which they make available.”

Over the next 40 years, the nation’s job training system was transformed from one that began as city- or county-based to one that required a regional response to the workforce needs of business, industry, and workers.[1]

This transformation was not always without controversy.  States sought to control the program and deliver services statewide, and individual cities and counties sought to maintain their control over the funds and the program. Yet time and time again policymakers decided that America’s federally funded job training system should be delivered locally through a system of regionally based workforce programs that were multi-jurisdictional and reflected labor markets, economic development areas, and regional economies.

Why?  Regions, rather than individual cities or counties, are more likely to reflect the true labor market of an area.  Workers of course will cross governmental boundaries to get to work, employers will draw upon workers from a wide area and not just the municipality or county in which they are located, and wage rates are likely to be similar across these areas, thereby ensuring that individual workers would consider a variety of locations for work. 

Regions, rather than individual cities or counties, are more likely to be able to generate successful economic development strategies.  The many jurisdictions within a region are better able to develop effective land use and tax policies, make better use of the human capital throughout the region, and generate business and industrial development and jobs.

With passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014, policymakers finally made it clear that workforce development and job training programs must be regionally based. 

The law states that each state when drawing up its workforce development areas shall develop planning regions that consist of labor market areas, economic development regions, and other “contiguous sub-areas” of the states.  And as part of the identification process, the state will use the following regional criteria:

What began as a single city- or county-based job training system some 45 years ago has morphed into a robust, multi-jurisdictional job training system that reflects how and why economies emerge. Going beyond governmental boundaries, this system provides workforce development based on labor markets, economic development areas, local economies, industrial composition, labor force conditions and participation, and much more. 

[1] The Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) in 1983, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) in 1988, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014 succeeded CETA. 

Neil Bomberg

About the Author

Neil Bomberg
I am a highly experienced public sector lobbyist committed to ensuring that the issues important to regions and the local governments they represent are heard in Congress and the Administration. My issue areas include: budget and appropriations, human services, health care, workforce development, and economic and community development. I worked as a lobbyist at the National Association of Counties and National League of Cities for more than 26 years where I focused on labor and employment, and human development, respectively.

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