What You Need to Know: Workforce Development Boards

This resource was created for NYCETC members as part of our collective efforts to create an effective, inclusive, and sustainable workforce development system.

Under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), each local workforce area is required to convene a Workforce Development Board (WDB) to fulfill certain responsibilities related to receiving federal funds. At the discretion of local officials, WDBs can play a broader role in setting policy and otherwise leading local systems. 

As pointed out in this short video by the National Association of Workforce Boards, the functions, services, objectives, resources, and data within any local workforce system are dispersed among a wide variety of institutional actors. WDBs focus on analyzing data, identifying trends, linking workforce development and economic development, and, most importantly, planning out how funding in support of these efforts is dispersed

As the City administration continues its overhaul of local workforce development policy in the wake of Executive Order 22 issued last August, it is important for each of us to understand the actual and potential functions of WDBs here and across the country.

What is a Workforce Development Board?

According to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), a Local Workforce Development Board (WDB) is an entity convened by the chief elected official (such as a mayor), who appoints its members. Responsibilities of the Local WDB include setting local workforce policy within its designated geography, including development of local strategy and funding priorities for WIOA dollars. By federal statute, the Local WDB must include a majority of “representatives of business in the local area,” including the Board Chair. The law requires a number of other groups to be represented on the WDB as well, including labor, community-based organizations, and higher education. 

The core idea of the WBD has persisted in only slightly different form through successive pieces of federal workforce legislation over many years. The Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), passed in 1982, required each local area to convene a “Private Industry Council” (PIC). The Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which supplanted JTPA in 1998, called for Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs). In all cases, the premise was that local areas best understand their own needs, capacities, and policy environment, and should exert significant authority in setting priorities and allocating resources in response to local conditions. Additionally, federal policymakers have attempted to elevate employers as the main drivers of local workforce policy.  

In addition to Local WDBs, each state is obligated to convene a State WDB, which has roughly analogous membership and responsibilities.

What does the Board do?

The CFR describes the role of the WDB as “to serve as a strategic leader and convener of workforce system stakeholders.” What this aspirational language means in practice is largely left to the discretion of local officials, but WIOA requires that the Local WDB submit a four-year local plan for the area detailing service delivery strategies that support the State’s vision and objectives. This includes describing investments in economic, education, and workforce training programs and how the local area will engage partners to build a skilled workforce.  

Other statutory responsibilities of the Board include:

  • Working with high school and postsecondary education programs to develop and implement career pathways aligned to local demand;
  • Identifying and promoting best practices to meet the needs of employers, jobseekers, and workers; and
  • Conducting workforce research and labor market analysis to inform policy direction, investment decisions, and ongoing assessment of local needs and priorities, among many more.

The local WDB additionally has a role in oversight of WIOA-funded activities, including aspects of one-stop centers (known in New York City as Workforce1 Career Centers). Finally, WDBs can establish standing committees to help with its work, focusing on areas such as service delivery, youth policy, serving priority populations such as people with disabilities, and more. Committee membership is not limited to WDB members, though the Chair must serve on the official WDB.  

Much of the oversight of Local WDBs is left to local and state officials. In practice, this means that the local chief elected official is being relied upon to be assertive in empowering their local WDBs, and that the state should be attentive in its efforts to assure accountability. 

But is there misalignment between local and state efforts?

In 2022, the Office of Comptroller DiNapoli provided a critical assessment of the governance and coordination of New York State workforce development programs- “Workforce development is crucial to help New York recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the programs across the state lack leadership and coordination,” DiNapoli said. “As the lead agency in workforce development, the Department of Labor needs to pay closer attention to what is needed to better manage these programs and get our state back to work.

What is the future of New York City’s Workforce Development Board?

Currently, NYC’s WDB meets on a quarterly basis and has fulfilled its statutory obligation to develop a four-year WIOA plan. Details specific to membership and meetings are provided on the Mayor’s Office of Talent and Workforce Development website

The Future of Workers Task Force, convened last October, is expected to release a report in the near future that will include its reactions to the recommendations section of the aforementioned Executive Order 22 to drive better employment outcomes for NYC residents, including:

  • Reviewing government structures that currently support economic development, local businesses, workforce training and education;
  • Revisiting industry and employer engagement on education and workforce issues to decrease fragmentation, build stronger partnerships, and enable effective use of time and resources;
  • Reviewing the purpose, governance, and functions of the Workforce Development Corporation;
  • Examining the composition, functions, and responsibilities of the Workforce Development Board; and
  • Recommending co-investment strategies across public agencies and for public and private resources.

A March 2023 policy brief jointly released by NYCETC, the Workforce Professionals Training Institute, and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, noted that some large cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and San Diego coordinate and provide leadership for the workforce development sector. Although New York City government retains the authority to allocate and manage federal workforce funds across agencies (including the Departments of Small Business Services and Youth and Community Development and the Human Resources Administration), New York City’s Workforce Development Board should work closely with the mayor’s office in strategy development and priority-setting.

If this proves to be the case, the WDB could assert itself in any number of ways, from taking the lead on strategy for and beyond WIOA and building closer partnerships with employers and philanthropic funders, to strengthening oversight of programs and services and helping shape new contract opportunities. The field could gain a powerful ally in addressing longstanding gaps and inequities, such as the system’s difficulties in reaching small and mid-sized employers and the inconsistency across different contracts in terms of compensation for similar services.

Providers should keep an eye open for news about the WDB, including potential engagement opportunities through its committees and other means.  

Key Resources

NYC Workforce Development Board
National Association of Workforce Boards
San Diego Workforce Partnership

Reports and Other Resources
Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart C—Local Workforce Development Boards
New York City’s local Workforce Plan (2021-2025)
A Call to Action for Workforce Development Boards
State and Local Efforts to Strengthen Workforce System Governance and Planning Under WIOA
Overlap, Duplication, Gaps, and/or Fragmentation in Workforce Development Programs and Services
An Active Labor Market Policy for New York City To Achieve Shared Prosperity

To join the coalition for a first-look at communications like these, please visit: nycetc.org/membership.