This brief analyzes and discusses key features and experiences of 12 American Job Centers (AJCs) in rural areas. The findings offer insight into frontline service delivery and system-wide planning in addition to an update on the persistence of previously identified challenges in rural service delivery.

This is one in a series of five briefs relating to American Job Center Operations. The other four briefs focus on the following topics:

  1. Key Institutional Features of American Job Centers;
  2. One-Stop Operators of the American Job Center System;
  3. Resource Sharing Practices Among American Job Corps Centers; and
  4. An Institutional Analysis of American Job Centers: Study Highlight

The Institutional Analysis of American Job Centers (AJCs) study team visited 40 comprehensive AJCs in 2016 to document key characteristics and features of AJCs. Data were collected when the workforce system, particularly at the local level, was still in the early stages of implementing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Thus, the study provides a useful picture of the AJC system during the early days of WIOA. The findings offer insights into the changes and potential challenges WIOA raises for the existing AJC service delivery system in its efforts to fully implement WIOA and achieve its vision of an integrated workforce system.

This brief discusses key features and experiences of 12 AJCs 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.

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.

Major Findings & Recommendations

The organizations and institutions that make up the public workforce system have enormous importance for improving the livelihood of rural Americans. The needs of rural areas are of significance in workforce policy because many rural areas have also experienced considerable changes in their employment landscapes in recent years. Moreover, rural areas have recovered more slowly from the Great Recession. Given these findings, their experiences and challenges should be given special consideration as the implementation of WIOA continues. Of interest would be learning how local areas have managed implementation of particular components and priorities of the legislation, including WIOA’s new requirement for competitive procurement of the One-Stop Operator; increased emphasis on facilitating access to core partner programs; and engaging in activities around career pathways and sector strategies.

Specific contextual factors and their implications identified in the brief include:

  • Rural areas’ large workforce regions generally mean that job seekers travel long distances to access services and jobs (with limited public transit options) and that AJC partner programs, employers, and training providers are not near one another.
  • Rural areas within more rural states experienced smaller funding allocations for two reasons because: (1) their states receive smaller amounts, and (2) they receive smaller amounts than more populated areas within their states.
  • Rural AJCs served more customers with barriers to employment than in the past due to the opioid epidemic and other social and cultural shifts.
  • The Internet, which could help improve access to services, is not consistently available at broadband speeds required for distance learning and other online service delivery options.
  • Rural AJCs have less staff and access to specialized training and funding than non-rural AJCs.
  • Rural AJCs generally only reported a small number of co-located partners beyond ES and the Adult and Dislocated Worker programs because of small center facilities, distance from key partners’ main office locations, and partners’ limited staff capacity.
  • Four rural AJCs also noted that due to out-migration by younger workers, particularly those with some postsecondary education, to metropolitan areas, the remaining workforce was older and lower-skilled.
  • Rural areas’ smaller funding amounts also affected their staffing levels.