This is one of a series of four reports that offers insights from an institutional analysis that systematically documented characteristics and features of American Job Centers (AJCs) and One-Stop Operators and their resource sharing practices during the early days of WIOA implementation. This resource specifically focuses on AJC service delivery in rural areas.

This paper discusses key features and experiences of 12 AJCs in the study that were located in rural areas. It focuses on AJCs as the unit of service delivery, which is a narrower focus than prior studies of the rural workforce system as a whole. Therefore, the findings offer insight into frontline service delivery and systemwide planning in addition to an update on the persistence of previously identified challenges in rural service delivery.

Consistent with published research on the public workforce system in rural areas, data from site visits surfaced common factors impacting service delivery in this context: funding; staffing; geographic accessibility of services, training and employment; technological capacity; One-Stop Operator arrangements; partnerships; and population.

(This report is 13 pages, including endnotes.)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The following findings and recommendations are documented in this report:

  • Continued cuts to WIOA funding overall have specific ramifications for rural service delivery. AJCs already receive smaller allocations due to population-based funding formulas for key programs, and have difficulty applying for and securing grants given both limited staffing and a smaller pool of potential participants to meet enrollment targets. These challenges are magnified in the current funding climate, as state formula grants under WIOA (and, previously, WIA) have been consistently shrinking since 2001.
  • WIOA’s emphasis on partnerships and systems coordination appears to be more challenging to operationalize for large service areas where key actors are not in close proximity. The fact that partner programs, training providers, employers, and customers are spread widely over the service areas of most of the rural AJCs in this study underscores the importance of having clear mechanisms and strong relationships for facilitating access to services for both job seekers and employers.
  • Similarly, evidence-based approaches prioritized under WIOA might be more logistically challenging for large service areas given the contextual features discussed in this paper. For example, because rural AJCs reported having fewer and more widely spread local employers and training providers, it might be more challenging for AJC partners to engage in activities around sector strategies and career pathways as emphasized under WIOA.
  • Rural AJCs are serving more customers with barriers to employment, consistent with WIOA’s emphasis on such populations, but must do so with fewer staff and less access to specialized training and funding than non-rural AJCs. Given the slow recovery of rural regions from the recession, out-migration of younger and well-educated workers, and increases in the share of customers who are English learners or have criminal records, rural AJCs are serving a higher-need population—but with fewer staff, with less funding, and over a larger catchment area than non-rural AJCs.