WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Patty Murray (D-WA) announced new legislation today that would support the development of specialized workforce training programs at two-year colleges to meet regional workforce needs of emerging industries or “sectors.” The “Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success” (SECTORS) Act, which was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today by Reps. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) and Todd Platts (R-PA), would utilize a regional approach to workforce development.
“Workforce development and job creation go hand-in-hand,” said Senator Brown. “By providing tailored education programs for regional industry needs, we can create and retain jobs. This bipartisan bill would ensure that American workers are equipped with the skills for jobs of the 21st century.”
“As Maine has lost a quarter of its manufacturing employment over the past decade, it is clear that the face of our economy is changing and we must do everything within our power to prepare our workforce for the demands of the global market,” said Senator Snowe, Ranking Member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. “The SECTORS bill provides a crucial link between establishing worker training programs and fostering new employment opportunities that are fundamental to our economic recovery. These partnerships will help workers obtain the skills today to compete in the economy of tomorrow.”
“I believe that providing new skills to our workers is going to make or break our ability to remain globally competitive and rebound from this recession,” said Senator Murray, Chairman of the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. “To do this we need to make the vital connections between education, workforce and economic development at the regional level. I’m proud to represent a state that’s taken this approach and I’m pleased to support Senator Brown in his efforts to scale up similar efforts nationwide. I look forward to working with him on this as we work to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).”
“In these tough economic times we need to make sure we are doing all we can to connect workers with emerging industries,” said Congressman Loebsack. “This bill pulls everyone together; it’s a game changer. The SECTORS bill strengthens our industries by targeting what they need to compete and thrive and linking worker training and employment opportunities to those needs. By connecting educators, workers, and industry leaders we not only create and save jobs, we create and save industries.”
Brown and Snowe first introduced this legislation in 2008. A summary of the bill can be found here.
The SECTORS Act addresses the disparity between high unemployment rates and a shortage of skilled workers for many emerging industries. Despite the nation’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate, there is still demand in today’s labor market for skilled workers. 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.
To address this disparity, the SECTORS Act provides grants for sector partnerships among institutions of higher education, industry, organized labor, and workforce board. 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.
Between 2000 and 2007, Ohio experienced a 24.3 percent drop in manufacturing employment, shedding nearly 230,000 jobs. Overall employment dropped by nearly 3.6 percent in the same time period. Compared with other states in the region, Ohio is one of only three that did not fully recover jobs lost after the 2001 recession. Ohio also had the second highest manufacturing job losses, behind Michigan.
Likewise, in Maine, the number of manufacturing jobs has dropped dramatically over the past decade. Between 1998 and 2008, Maine experienced a 27 percent decline in manufacturing employment, which fell from a high of 81,000 to a current level of 59,000 jobs. One of the key reasons that the loss of manufacturing jobs has so dramatically affected Maine is that the average annual manufacturing wage is $10,000 more than the average annual state wage. The statistics for New England are no better: From January 1998 through December 2006, the region witnessed a decline of roughly 25 percent of its manufacturing workforce.
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.