Legislation Would Address Skills Gap, Match Workforce Development with Needs of Regional, High-Growth Industries
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In advance of a Toledo visit by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) underscored the need for job-driven training that addresses the gap between worker training programs and the needs of regional, high growth industries. Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), legislation that contains provisions modeled after Brown’s SECTORS Act that would help dislocated workers train for high-tech jobs in their region.
“With too many Americans still unable to find work, we must do all that we can to ensure that our workers are qualified to fill available jobs,” Brown said. “I applaud Secretaries Duncan and Perez for their visit to Ohio and efforts to help close our country’s skills gap. We can promote job-driven training by implementing provisions from my SECTORS Act. This will strengthen job training efforts and enable our schools to partner with U.S. industries to help them grow and flourish.”
Duncan and Perez will visit the Toledo Public Schools’ (TPA) Toledo Technology Academy. The school was recently awarded $3.8 million through the Youth CareerConnect grant program, a collaborative effort between the Education and Labor departments. The grant is meant to increase partnerships between TPA and employers. The Secretaries will also tour the training facility of the Toledo Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. Apprentices are trained at the complex for electrical careers and telecommunications jobs.
Included in WIOA were provisions from Brown’s Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, which would promote and require sector-based partnerships to ensure that workforce training programs are developed with industry input and tailored to meet companies’ workforce needs. Brown and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the SECTORS Act of 2013 and successfully fought for similar language in WIOA, which reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).
WIA was first passed in 1998 to encourage local businesses to work with the federal government in developing workforce development that is customer-focused, gives Americans the resources they need to manage their careers, and helps American companies find skilled workers. A recent report found that between 2008 and 2018, Ohio will create 967,000 job openings requiring postsecondary education or training. Ohio, in fact, ranks tenth with the biggest looming skilled labor shortage in the country. By tailoring workforce development to the needs of regional, high-growth industries, more workers could receive placements and more businesses could be attracted to a region based on a “clusters” approach.
That is why Brown successfully fought to pass provisions in WIOA that would:
- Ensure industry stakeholders and business representatives participate in devising and implementing workforce training programs;
- Require State Workforce Investment Boards to develop strategies that meet the needs of employers through industry or sector partnerships related to in-demand industry sectors and occupations; and
- Require local employment and training activities to develop, convene, or implement industry or sector partnerships.
Brown first authored the SECTORS Act in 2008, with U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) as the lead Senate sponsor and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) as a cosponsor. The legislation would organize stakeholders connected to a regional industry, including business and labor leaders, education and training providers, and local workforce and education system administrators, to develop plans for growing that industry. Brown’s bill would also address the disparity between high unemployment rates and a shortage of skilled workers for many emerging industries by providing grants for sector partnerships among institutions of higher education, industry, organized labor, and workforce boards. These partnerships would create customized solutions for specific industries at the regional level. A sector approach can focus on the dual goals of promoting the long-term competitiveness of industries and advancing employment opportunities for workers.
In April, Brown applauded the Obama Administration’s new initiative to help workers train for—and land—local jobs. The initiative follows a model similar to Brown’s SECTORS Act. During an event in Pennsylvania, President Obama and Vice President Biden announced $600 million for targeted training and apprenticeship programs that would help American workers obtain the skills needed for well-paid, middle-class jobs.