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History of Workforce Development

The History of Workforce Development

“What the whole world wants is a good job.”
Jim Clifton, Chairman of Gallup, The Coming Jobs War

Workforce development is essential to any society, whether in a period of growth or recession. Education and training are essential to bridge the skills gap that occurs through generations of new technological advances. There have been numerous workforce statutes created over the past 80 years that emphasize the need for education and training to ensure a skill-ready workforce.

The New Deal (1933-1938)

Federal workforce development legislation is said to have originated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. During the Great Depression, employment across the nation fell to an all-time low. President Roosevelt initiated and Congress enacted various programs designed to provide employment assistance and create jobs for both urban and rural areas, and at the same time, build the nation’s infrastructure. The Works Progress Administration, part of the New Deal programs, increased spending on public projects to provide jobs. During the eight years that this program operated, more than 8.5 million jobs were generated nationwide. Slowly, the economy began to improve through World War II. The Fair Labor Standards Act and Social Security Act were also passed during this time to protect workers.

Manpower Development and Training Act (1962-1973)

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy recognized that unemployment was again on the rise, and the worker skills gap was increasing rapidly with a changing economy. The Manpower Development and Training Act was designed to provide training to unemployed adults and a small percentage of youth workers whose skills needed to be upgraded to enter or re-enter the workforce.

Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (1973-1982)

The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), implemented in 1973, resulted from many revisions to the Manpower Development and Training Act. CETA was designed to create jobs for unemployed adults and provide summer job opportunities for high school students. A primary focus of CETA was apprenticeships for unemployed or underemployed individuals to help them gain experience and on-the-job training. CETA consolidated federal training programs and services, and placed greater responsibility on states as “Prime Sponsors.” Under CETA, many new programs were created and implemented.

Job Training Partnership Act (1982-1998)

The Job Training and Partnership Act (JTPA) further consolidated education and job training programs by setting up regional Service Delivery Areas (SDAs) in each state, but still placed a heavy responsibility on the federal government. These SDAs evolved into today’s Workforce Investment Areas. More emphasis was placed on the analysis of the programs initiated through JTPA to show that they were having a positive impact on society. JTPA focused on providing training for unemployed adults and youth through a variety of programs and created private industry councils to provide input into workforce development programs.

Workforce Investment Act (1998-2014)

Fourteen years after the Job Training Partnership Act, President William J. Clinton spearheaded the passage of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Enacted during a period of full employment, WIA focused on the delivery of workforce development programs and related services through a nationwide network of community-based, one-stop career centers. These centers were set up to assist all individuals and established mandatory partners to participate in these centers, so individuals could access a variety of related workforce programs and services from a single location. WIA created business-led Workforce Investment Boards to develop local strategies based on labor market data and to oversee programs in their communities.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (2014-present)

On July 22, 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA), which reauthorizes the workforce investment system and replaces the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. WIOA took effect on July 1, 2015, and states and local workforce development boards are implementing the act. 


PA Workforce Development Association