WASHINGTON, D.C.—Ohio’s unemployment rate—8.6 percent—belies the fact that many employers in high-growth industries struggle to find trained workers to fill job vacancies, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said on a news conference call today. To address this disparity, Brown called for passage of his bill, the SECTORS Act, which ensures that workforce training efforts meet the needs of high-growth, regional industries in Ohio and across the country.
“At a time of high unemployment, it’s unacceptable for jobs to sit vacant. But too many employers are having a hard time finding workers with the necessary skills to fill available jobs. As a result, job openings in high-growth industries in Ohio, like healthcare, clean energy, and biosciences, and even the manufacturing sector are going unfilled,” Brown said. “Clearly, a skills gap exists. And it’s a gap that denies workers new opportunities and undermines our nation’s economic competitiveness.”
“We need to do a better job of creating tailoring workforce development programs to meet the demands of 21st-century industries,” Brown continued. “The SECTORS Act creates partnerships between educators, industry, and workforce training boards to ensure that workers have the right skills to get hired in high-tech, good-paying jobs. And by ensuring a skilled, local workforce, we can attract employers in high-growth industries,” Brown continued.
Brown’s bill addresses the disparity between high unemployment and unfilled vacancies for jobs by tailoring workforce development efforts to meet the needs of regional industries. Ohio examples of clusters- or sectors-based job growth include clean energy, like wind energy in northeast Ohio and solar energy in northwest Ohio; biotechnology; advanced manufacturing; tool and die makers; and aerospace. Nationally, existing examples of “clusters” include Silicon Valley in California, the Research Triangle in North Carolina, food packaging in Pennsylvania, shipbuilding in Maine, and tourism in central Florida.
The SECTORS Act would organize stakeholders connected to a regional industry-multiple firms, unions, education and training providers, and local workforce and education system administrators-to develop plans for growing that industry. Eligible entities would be able to apply for a one year planning grant of up to $250,000 and a three year implementation grant of up to $2.5 million.
Brown was joined by Ross Meyer, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network, and Allison Motz, executive director of The Northern Ohio Health, Science and Innovation Coalition (NOHSIC). NOHSIC is comprised of several of northeast Ohio’s health care systems and hospitals—including the Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, Summa Health, University Hospitals, Southwest General Health System, and EMH Healthcare—working together to develop a skilled healthcare workforce in the region.
Both Meyer and Motz discussed the urgency of developing clusters-based partnerships to spur job growth and attract additional emerging industries to Ohio. On the call, Brown noted that parts of the SECTORS Act are expected to be included in the upcoming reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act. Brown is working with leadership on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee to ensure that sector-style partnerships are further integrated in this legislation, as they will lead to a stronger economy.
“Through the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network, we’re working with industry to prepare people for jobs that are currently available and to prepare for what’s ahead,” said Meyer. “Senator Brown's leadership on the SECTORS Act demonstrates his commitment to ensuring that Ohio's employers have the skilled workers they need to compete, and Ohio’s workforce has the skills needed to secure in-demand jobs.”
The SECTORS Act is a bipartisan bill, with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) joining Brown in sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, and U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) and Todd Russell Platts (R-PA) as chief sponsors in the House of Representatives. In early June, President Obama announced an expansion of an initiative called “Skills for America’s Future,” in an effort to boost American manufacturing. The initiative closely mirrors the workforce training components of the SECTORS Act, initially authored by Brown in 2008.