Joan L. Wills

Senior Policy Fellow, Center for Workforce Development
National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth
202-822-8405 x 103

Ms. Joan L. Wills established the Center for Workforce Development (CWD) of the Institute for Educational Leadership and now serves as a part-time Senior Policy Fellow with CWD.  CWD concentrates its work on the development and improvement of employment-related learning systems in the United States.  It focuses on development of new tools (such as skill and literacy standards); systems improvements (such as transition from school to work, adult literacy programs); and capacity of institutions (such as employer-led organizations to work with education institutions and youth serving agencies).

Included among her publications are: Comprehensive Career Planning Its Role in the Competitive Global Economy; Mentoring: Strategies to Support Expansion of Diversity in the Workforce Preparing All Youth for Academic and Career Readiness: Implications for High School Policy and Practice for the U.S. Department of Labor;  Promoting New Seals of Endorsements in Career Education, for the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium; Standards: Making Them Useful and Workable for the Education Enterprise, for the U.S. Department of Education; co-author, with Irene Lynn, of School Lessons, Work Lessons: Recruiting and Sustaining Employers Involvement in School-to-Work Programs; editor of Voices from the Field: Lessons from Employers and Intermediaries in School-to-Work; and, principal investigator for a four-volume study, Overview of Skill Standards Systems in Education and Industry: Systems in the U.S. and Abroad for the U.S. Department of Education.

Currently Ms. Wills oversees a multiyear research and development initiative in fifteen high schools in four states testing the efficacy of state-mandated individualized learning plans as graduation requirement. She was the original principal investigator for the National Collaborative on Workforce Development for Youth, comprised of several organizations to deliver technical assistance to build the capacity of workforce development organizations to provide comprehensive services to young people with disabilities.  The Collaborative’s products are the results of evidence-based research about what the primary clients of the workforce development system—youth and employers—need for the youth to be successful in the labor force. There are multiple publications prepared by the Collaborative focusing on effective polices to link the major institutions (that make up the workforce development system in the country) and practices—such as mentoring, assessment, and needs of specific at risk populations (e.g., youth in foster care, those with psychiatric disorders, and learning disabilities).  Far too numerous to list, these publications are available for download through the NCWD/Y project’s Web site.

In partnership with the National Association of Manufactures and several other industry groups, CWD served as the manager of the Manufacturing Industry Careers Alliance, which was established to develop more coherent roles and mechanisms for employer-based organizations to work with education and training providers at the national, state, and local levels.  Ms. Wills served as manager of a national effort that brings together national organizations and representatives of states and localities to ensure core principles, identified via the “School-to-Work” initiative, are incorporated into state and local policies and practice.  Ms. Wills provides research and assistance to states and national organizations (e.g., Ohio and Mississippi) in the redesign of their workforce development systems.  She also continues a long-standing advisor role to the National Skill Standards Board.  She recently managed a six-state education policy mapping study as a part of IEL's leadership development work.

Prior to joining IEL, Ms.Wills served as project manager of the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce that issued the report, America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages!  She was the Director of the Center for Policy Research at the National Governor's Association for several years, and prior to that served as a gubernatorial appointee in two states, Ohio and Illinois, as director of workforce development agencies.  Before time spent in state government, she worked at the local level in Columbus, Ohio, for the planning arm of the United Way, and helping to create and manage the local anti-poverty agency.

She has considerable international experience through work done for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, and U.S. AID; all centered on education and workforce development issues. She serves on the board of the Athena Alliance. She was a member of the national Work Readiness Council and assisted in the development of a new credential for entry level workers and also a member of the National Skills Standards Board Institute, and is a past chair of the National Youth Employment Coalition.  Ms. Wills has served as advisor to the National School Boards Association and the National Urban League.  She served as a senior scholar for the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce and was a presidential appointment to the Commission for Employment and Unemployment Statistics.  She also has served as a member of the boards of:  the Corporation for Enterprise Development; American Council on Education's Commission on Education Credit and Credentials; the National Vocational-Technical Education Honor Society; the Workforce Excellence Board; the Development Training Institute; Youthwork, Inc.; National Child Labor Committee; and U.S. Basics.  She has served on several advisory panels for a variety of organizations, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Aspen Institute, the Office of Technology Assessment, and the National Academy of Sciences. 

She received an undergraduate degree at Franklin College in Indiana and a graduate degree at Ohio State University in social work.

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