Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the federal government allocates about $5 billion annually to states to support workforce development activities, including training for “in-demand” careers. States distribute these funds into their local workforce through state-sponsored “one-stop” workforce centers, and people can receive funding to pay for training for occupations designated as “in-demand” by either a state or local workforce development board.
Unclear and inconsistent information about what constitutes an “in-demand” career and bureaucratic red tape have created confusion for truck driver training providers and trainees attempting to access these funds. States and Congress should act to clarify which occupations are designated as “in-demand” for the purposes of eligibility for WIOA training funds and ensure that training opportunities are available in all states for nationally “in-demand” occupations.
WIOA defines an “in-demand sector or occupation” as:
An industry sector with substantial current or potential impact on the state, regional, or local economy or an occupation that has, or is projected to have, a sufficient number of positions in an industry sector that has a similarly significant economic impact.
Determinations regarding individual occupations are left to state or local boards, and states differ on what factors they utilize when making determinations. For example, Nebraska utilizes three factors to determine an “in-demand” job: the number of annual openings, the net change in employment, and the growth rate for the job. Whereas, Alabama has a Five-Star Rubric that ranks occupations based on wages, job growth, education credential requirements, and how “in-demand” the job is by state region.
State and local variations in the factors used in determinations and listing of “in-demand” occupations creates confusion for people seeking training that may be supported by WIOA. Lists of “in-demand” occupations don’t typically include clear information signifying that training for these occupations may be paid for using WIOA funds. In South Carolina, truck driving is not listed as an “in-demand” occupation on two separate state websites (suggesting WIOA funds could not be used for truck driver training in the state), but several truck driver training schools are listed on the state’s list of WIOA-eligible training providers.
Additionally, CVTA members have reported problems in accessing WIOA funds for training even when truck driving is listed as an “in-demand” occupation in their states. For example, some CVTA members have had to delay or deny student entrance into their training programs when their access to WIOA was unexpectedly interrupted by government red tape. This takes time and precious resources away from truck driver training.
This confusion creates barriers to training more truck drivers and getting them on the road amidst an ongoing truck driver shortage, estimated at 80,000 drivers in 2021. These impacts extend to every level of the supply chain. Trucks moved 71% of the value of all goods shipped in the United States in 2017, and they moved large majorities of key goods like electronics, vehicles, and pharmaceutical products. Driver shortages limit the ability of trucking to meet industry demands at a national level.
Both states and Congress can act to address this confusion and support removing barriers to training. States should create clear and easily accessible lists of occupations designated as “in-demand” statewide, and clarify that this designation makes training for these occupations eligible to be paid for by WIOA, to the extent that WIOA funds are available.
As Congress considers WIOA authorization in 2022, they should increase funding for training programs and create a system to designate certain nationally important occupations, like truck driving, as “in-demand” nationally. This designation should allow training for these occupations to be eligible to be paid for with WIOA funds regardless of state or local designations.