• Navigator
  • Strategic Planning
  • Workforce Development

A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Public Workforce System

December 6, 2023 Lindsay Johnson

A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Public Workforce SystemOver the last decade, the economic development field has evolved to take a more comprehensive approach to generating prosperity at the local, regional, and state levels. Camoin Associates embeds this concept into its strategic planning processes with clients nationwide.

From housing and broadband to small business and entrepreneurship, communities talk with us about the interconnected challenges that they hope to address in the planning process to advance their economies. One thing all these places have in common is a targeted focus on the local and/or regional workforce.

“Workforce” on its own is a huge category. In the sphere of economic development, Camoin Associates thinks about workforce in terms of the development, recruitment, and retention of a region’s labor force. It spans policy, education and training providers, human resources initiatives, macroeconomic trends, and more. A major piece of this puzzle, and perhaps one of the most nebulous, is the public workforce system, which is the focus of this article.

This overview won’t unpack every aspect of workforce development, but it will shed light on what the public workforce system is, how it is organized, and some key services it provides. The intention is to highlight the fundamentals as a starting point for economic development professionals seeking to understand the “big picture” of the workforce development ecosystem. I will also provide some examples of how the public workforce system looks on the ground.

Public Workforce System Overview

The Urban Institute defines the public workforce system succinctly: “The public workforce system, as defined by the US Department of Labor, is a network of federal, state, and local government-funded agencies and programs that provide services to workers, job seekers, and employers ‘to support economic expansion and develop the talent of our nation’s workforce’.”

This network of government entities and their partners supports youth and adult workers with career, education, and training navigation, offers services to help employers expand their talent pipelines, and shares resources for skills training.

If you have ever interacted with the workforce system as part of your job, chances are you have heard the term “WIOA” mentioned in texts and conversations. WIOA stands for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was signed into law in 2014 to form state and local structures to support workforce development program coordination. As federal legislation, WIOA sets the standard for how the public workforce system is organized at the state and local levels.

Public Workforce System Organization

There are a variety of administrative entities economic developers will encounter as they navigate the workforce system at the federal, state, and local levels.

Federal Level

The US Department of Labor is the key entity that oversees the workforce system at the federal level. It directs and develops workforce development policies, including WIOA, provides a structure for the public workforce system nationwide, and sets parameters for state and local workforce development boards (more on those later).

Within the US Department of Labor, the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) offers workforce tools, strategies, and technical assistance to support job seekers and employers looking to attract and retain talent.

The ETA also administers the American Job Centers (also known as One-Stop Career Centers), a national network of physical and online hubs that helps job seekers search a range of career opportunities and training resources. Through the CareerOneStop website, job seekers can search for an American Job Center in their area to learn more about local resources.

In its resource library, CareerOneStop provides helpful information for veterans, workers with criminal convictions, workers aged 55+, workers with disabilities, young adults (ages 14-24), career changers, Spanish speakers, and entry-level workers. CareerOneStop also provides resources to help employers find qualified candidates for open jobs, access local training offerings, and learn about state-specific resources for businesses.

There are many aspects to developing the nation’s workforce, so several other federal agencies play niche roles in workforce development policy and programs:

State Structure

Each state, US Territory, and the District of Columbia has a statewide workforce agency that delivers “training, employment, career, business and wage and hour services, in addition to administering the unemployment insurance, veteran reemployment, and labor market information programs,” according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. The names and organization of state workforce agencies vary from state to state. For example, North Carolina’s Department of Commerce has a Division of Workforce Solutions, while Virginia’s Virginia Employment Commission leads workforce activities in that state. Economic developers seeking more information about state workforce agencies can check out the State Workforce Agencies directory on the US Department of Labor’s website.

In addition to state workforce agencies, WIOA also establishes state workforce development boards, which are the main entities responsible for WIOA implementation. The governor appoints board members who represent an array of industry, government, and community representatives.

The table below from the Congressional Research Service’s report, “The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the One-Stop Delivery System,” shows the membership requirements for both state and local workforce development boards (more on the latter in the next part of this section).Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) table showing state and local workforce development board composition requirementsEach state must have a unified plan to promote the coordination of services, which the board is responsible for developing. State workforce development boards also lead the:

  • review of statewide policies, programs, and recommendations that would align workforce programs to support a streamlined workforce development system
  • development and continuous improvement of statewide workforce activities, including coordination and nonduplication of One-Stop partner programs and strategies to support career pathways
  • designation of local workforce investment areas and identification of regions
  • development of formulas for within-state distribution of adult and youth funds
  • development and updating of state performance accountability measures
  • identification and dissemination of best practices of workforce development policy
  • development of strategies to improve technology in facilitating access to and delivery of One-Stop services
  • preparation of annual reports to DOL on performance measures
  • development of the statewide workforce and labor market information system[1]

Local Structure

Similar to the state workforce development boards, WIOA provides that chief local elected officials in a given local workforce area are responsible for appointing local workforce development boards. The local workforce development board performs multiple functions carrying out the programs and services authorized under WIOA, including:[2]

  • Development of a local plan for workforce investment activities
  • Analysis of regional labor market conditions, including needed knowledge and skills for the regional economy
  • Engagement of regional employers to promote business participation in the workforce development board and to coordinate workforce activities with the needs of employers
  • Development and implementation of career pathways
  • Identification and promotion of proven and promising workforce development strategies
  • Development of strategies to use technology to increase accessibility and effectiveness of the local workforce system
  • Oversight of all programs for youth, adult, and dislocated workers
  • Negotiation of local performance measures with the governor
  • Selection of One-Stop operators and eligible providers of training
  • Coordination of WIOA workforce development activities with local education providers
  • Development of a budget and administration of funding to service providers
  • Assistance in development of a statewide employment statistics system
  • Assessment of accessibility for disabled individuals at all local One-Stop centers

In addition to these local workforce development boards, various community partners intersect with the public workforce system. An

Within the postsecondary education system, community colleges play a critical role in designing education and training programs that respond to local industry needs. This can include coursework designed in collaboration with employers, which directly supports talent pipeline development.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs help provide employers with youth and adult workers. These commonly include high school courses designed around in-demand occupations within industry clusters (e.g., information technology) that ideally culminate in an industry-recognized credential and college credit for students.

The Workforce Ecosystem in Practice

While understanding the interconnectedness between federal, state, and local workforce systems can be challenging, it is important for economic developers to understand this landscape across the communities in which they work. Doing so can reduce strategies that duplicate efforts and foster greater collaboration and impact across public, private, and nonprofit partners. Learning about this ecosystem can also better position stakeholders to exchange the same industry, occupation, and education information, ensuring transparency for job seekers, employers, and service providers.

Camoin Associates has helped bring workforce system clarity and strategic direction to a number of our clients. Examples of this include:

  • RochesterWorks Workforce System Scan (Monroe County, NY): RochesterWorks — a member of the American Job Center Network and administrator of employment and training resources on behalf of the Monroe County/Rochester Workforce Development Board — sought to identify and analyze local workforce development resources, which grew significantly in response to the disruption and opportunities created by the COVID-19 pandemic.RochesterWorks retained Camoin Associates to catalog the organizations, programs, activities, and populations served across the county’s workforce system. Through a combination of desktop research and direct stakeholder engagement, we catalogued over 100 workforce provider organizations and 369 programs in Monroe County and populated this information in a user-friendly database for our client
  • Stark Tuscarawas Workforce Development Board (Stark and Tuscarawas Counties, OH): In the summer of 2023, the Stark Tuscarawas Workforce Development Board (STWDB) embarked on a strategic planning exercise aimed at crafting a robust and all-encompassing three-year strategic plan. For this project, Camoin Associates completed a thorough evaluation of the organization’s current functions and operations, complemented by a review of its existing mission and vision statements to bring clarity and reaffirm its purpose.The team then researched the labor market of STWDB’s service area, engaged over 50 stakeholders (including STWDB staff, local elected officials, board members, community leaders, partners, and customers), and produced an organizational plan to help the workforce board be a more strategic and impactful partner in the local workforce system.

If you are interested in learning more about Camoin Associates’ workforce development services, please visit our website and contact Jim Damicis, Senior Vice President, with questions.

[1] Congressional Research Service (2022). R44252 (congress.gov).

[2] Congressional Research Service (2022). R44252 (congress.gov).