Message from Adult Education Director on Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

With the passage and implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), there has been some discussion about the act’s potential effect on the basic skills instruction provided by adult education.

WIOA is not simply taking adult education in a different direction, but is expanding adult education’s purposes. Under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) which was replaced by WIOA, adult education focused on improving education and employment outcomes, helping adults to become self-sufficient, and assisting parents in supporting the educational development of their children. Maine adult education programs have a long history of improving learners’ basic skills, such as literacy, as well as building learners’ employability skills. It is important to note that, as Maine’s experience has proven, the two are not mutually exclusive. Many local adult education providers have long collaborated successfully with employers to develop educational and training programs for potential as well as incumbent workers.

WIOA retains those purposes of adult education noted above and expands them to include assisting people in the transition to postsecondary education and training. WIOA also formalizes the role of adult education in assisting English language learners in acquiring the English language and other skills to help them adjust to life in Maine.

Rather than WIOA distracting adult education from a focus on basic skills instruction, the act’s support for career pathways and adult education and literacy development acknowledges that access to basic skills is essential for success.

Additionally, even with a focus on the transition from adult education to postsecondary education, training and careers, WIOA does not preclude the provision of any range of adult education services and activities to eligible adults who are interested in receiving those services but who are neither in, nor expect to be in the workforce.

Among the changes in WIOA is support for career pathways services – something Maine is ahead of the curve on. In 2012, Maine Adult Education adopted a career pathways approach that required the development of adult education programs that, in an organized manner, prepare participants to progress along a pathway leading them to their educational, career and life goals. Maine is also ahead of the curve with our successful college transition program which has helped thousands of adults make the successful step into postsecondary education.

WIOA also encourages the creation of new opportunities for adult education to work more closely with workforce partners, postsecondary educational and training providers and employers to ensure adult education services meet the needs of both job seekers and employers.

WIOA does require providers, both in the adult education and workforce worlds, to be more relevant, to collaborate in more meaningful ways, to be held more accountable for outcomes and to demonstrate effectiveness. But in doing so it gives adult education a chance to do the very things we want for our learners – to improve and to be more successful. WIOA maintains adult education’s purpose and mission to serve those who have always been our first responsibility, learners with barriers to participation in educational and employment opportunities. We have been given an opportunity to be innovative and creative to increase student success and ensure all adult learners have their needs met – let’s use the opportunity.

For more information contact Maine DOE’s Adult Education Director Gail Senese at gail.senese@maine.gov or 624-6755.