Sen. Brown Introduces Bipartisan Legislation To Help Companies Address Skills Gap, Train Workers For High-Tech Jobs

By 2018, Ohio Will Create 967,000 New Job Openings Requiring Postsecondary Education or Training; Brown Joined on Press Call by Cincinnati Veteran who Struggled with Job Security until Receiving High Tech Job Training

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a news conference call to announce the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act of 2013, bipartisan legislation that would help dislocated workers train for high-tech jobs in their region.

“It’s a story I’ve heard time and time again throughout Ohio: biotech firms, high-tech manufacturers, and small businesses are hiring for open positions, but can’t find the workers with the right skills to fill them,” Brown said. “With too many Ohioans still unable to find work, we should be doing all that we can to ensure that our workers are qualified to fill Ohio jobs. A clusters-based job growth strategy for Ohio can help ensure our state’s economic competitiveness while reducing our unemployment rate. The SECTORS Act would enable Ohio industries like biotechnology, clean energy, and advanced manufacturing to continue to grow and flourish.”

Due to new jobs and retirement, a recent report found that between 2008 and 2018 Ohio will create 967,000 job openings requiring postsecondary education or training. But according to Forbes, Ohio ranks 10th 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.

The SECTORS Act, which Brown introduced with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), 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 and Collins intend to work with colleagues to make the SECTORS Act part of the bipartisan Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization. 

Despite the nation’s 7.6 percent unemployment rate, there is still demand in today’s labor market for skilled workers. According to a recent survey, 91 percent of manufacturing businesses are experiencing challenges finding qualified employees [National Tooling and Machining Association and the Precision Metalforming Association, December 2012]. In fact, according a recent report from the ManpowerGroup, skilled trade jobs were the most difficult to fill in the United States in 2012. This is particularly true for “middle-skill” jobs that require more than a high school degree but less than a four-year college degree. These jobs make up nearly half of America's labor market and provide good compensation for workers.

The SECTORS Act would 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.

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.

Brown was joined on the call by Daniel Brewer, a Cincinnati native and Navy veteran who struggled to find meaningful work after returning from Afghanistan. Despite working on military aircraft and high-grade machinery, Brewer lacked the formal job training and certification necessary to find consistent work back home. But upon receiving the type of high-tech job training SECTORS would promote, Brewer was able to advance his career and is now a testing technician at the General Electric facility in Vandalia.

“I had a lot of training in the Navy as an Aviation Electronics Technician, but I really had no idea how that translated into the civilian workforce,” Brewer said. “In February I enrolled in the Get Skills To Work program at Cincinnati State after hearing that GE was looking to hire 5,000 veterans over the next 5 years. After talking with these folks, I found that my technical skills learned in the Navy, as well as the knowledge I gained in the program were a perfect fit for a career at GE. I am currently a test technician at the GE facility in Vandalia, Ohio. I think passing this bill is a huge help to veterans returning from active duty as well as recently separated veterans looking for a transition into the civilian workforce.”

Brown first authored the bipartisan SECTORS Act in 2008, with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) as the lead Senate sponsor and Patty Murray (D-WA) as a cosponsor. The SECTORS Act is currently endorsed by the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD), National Skills Coalition, National Network of Sector Partners, Ohio Workforce Commission (OWC), Policy Matters Ohio, Towards Employment, and United Way of Central Ohio.

Brown has traveled around Ohio to highlight how a SECTORS-style approach could help grow jobs in Ohio:

  • In January 2012, during a visit to Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Brown highlighted an industry-sector jobs program that has trained more than 400 unemployed Ohioans for jobs in the emerging bioscience industry. Brown, who helped secure federal resources to help fund worker training in Cincinnati, was joined by a formerly-underemployed worker who graduated from the program and now works at DG Medical in Centerville.
  • In July 2010, Brown visited a clean energy jobs training site in Rossford to outline how a recent award of $5 million in new federal funds will help train workers for jobs in the clean energy industry. The Ohio GROWS (Green and Renewable Opportunities for Workers) project provides clean energy jobs training to nearly 1,300 workers at 19 sites across Ohio.
  • In October 2010, Brown was in Zanesville to discuss workforce development plans related to clean energy technology with area college and university presidents and business leaders, convening a roundtable at Zane State College in Muskingum County.
  • In October 2010, Brown also visited Dayton to meet with displaced auto workers participating in an advanced manufacturing class at Sinclair Community College. Workers in the program receive advanced manufacturing training at the school for a new career; the college’s advanced manufacturing curriculum is industry-driven and focused to prepare students for work in both large and small manufacturers.
  • In April 2009, Brown met with displaced auto workers and leaders in the bioscience and green energy industries at Cuyahoga Community College to discuss the SECTORS Act. Brown joined Dr. Craig Follins, Executive Vice President of Workforce and Economic Development at Cuyahoga Community College, to outline how more than $3 million in new federal funds for Tri-C will provide students with specialized training in bioscience, medical manufacturing, and green energy. The same day, Brown met with displaced auto workers and business leaders on Kent State University’s Trumbull campus to outline how more than $238,000 in new federal funds for the Northeast Ohio Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Kent State Trumbull will meet regional workforce needs by providing workers with specialized training in advanced manufacturing.

“Sector based strategies are a proven model for supporting career pathways – critical to our working poor as a pathway out of poverty,” the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD) said.The Ohio Workforce Coalition, of which COAD is a member, has worked to include sector partnerships as a cornerstone of workforce policy in Ohio. The SECTORS Act will support the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, which recently adopted a sector based strategy, to implement the necessary partnerships and better align state programs, education and training, and other resources serving both employers and workers.”

 

“Currently, federal policy does not explicitly support sector partnerships, making it difficult to take programs around the country to scale and drive the kind of system change that many policymakers want to see in the workforce development system,” the National Skills Coalition said. “Importantly, the SECTORS Act would create new capacity to support sector partnerships, and would create specific performance measures to recognize and reward states that are taking steps to more effectively engage employers.”

 

“Through the reintroduction of the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act; collaborations will be formed and will create industry-specific workforce development approaches to close skills gaps in key sectors and put Ohioans back to work into well-paying jobs,” the Ohio Workforce Coalition said. “More importantly, the SECTORS Act will assist employers identify and address workforce supply and demand issues and better plan for sustained business success and growth through an approach that will attract, develop, and retain employees.”

 

“Supporting sector partnerships is a step toward a more prosperous and inclusive Ohio. Policy Matters Ohio therefore applauds Senator Brown on the reintroduction of the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act,” Policy Matters Ohio said. “The partnerships promised by this legislation are essential to the growth and advancement of Ohio’s workforce and economy. By uniting multiple stakeholders connected to a specific industry, Ohio will be better equipped to respond to immediate skill shortages as well as establish a system that can effectively meet the needs for future industry growth.”

 

“We applaud the SECTORS legislation attempt to establish or expand industry based sector partnerships that involve collaborative planning, resource alignment, and training across multiple agencies,” Towards Employment said. “Towards Employment believes that this type of work force strategy will align existing services to increase efficiencies within the workforce system, reduce turnover for employers, and improve wages of low-and middle-income workers.”

 

“Sector strategies create partnerships between employees, education and training providers, workforce boards and community organizations to address the employee needs of growing industries,” the United Way of Central Ohio said. “Sector strategies connect workers with jobs in expanding industries, thereby helping unemployed and under-employed workers obtain skills and employment that provides pathways for career advancement. The partnerships proposed by the SECTORS Act would align stakeholders connected to a specific industry and better position Ohio to respond to employee skill shortages and the worker needs of emergent industries.”

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