Senators Propose Alternatives to Expiring $3 Billion Career Training Program

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was created in 2014 to help disenfranchised youth find jobs. A decade later, lawmakers suggested amending the federal program to focus more on practical solutions that address today’s realities.

While WIOA served more than 2.3 million people in 2022, it doesn’t address the 8 million-plus job openings in the United States right now or the reality that up to 39 million workers in this country could be displaced by automation or artificial intelligence by 2030, federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle indicated during a Senate committee meeting earlier this month.

The program, estimated at $3 billion, would need reauthorization to be included in the 2025 federal budget.

Based on suggestions from members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) made during a June 12 hearing, the focus should be shifted to local partnerships between community colleges and employers.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) called the program “a bloated government bureaucracy.” In its current form, it is centered around a standardized approach for 2,300 American Job Centers around the country.

“Many Americans are not receiving job training because of a workforce development program that is just not working well,” said Mr. Cassidy, HELP Committee ranking member, at the June 12 panel hearing on the issue.

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“We have the opportunity now to increase training for skills and development so workers can enter, re-enter, and remain in an ever-changing workforce.”

Lawmakers on the bipartisan committee explained their ideas for accomplishing that task.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) touted his “One Door to Work Act,” which proposes to allow career training/placement centers to offer social services administration functions for food assistance, housing vouchers, and childcare services in the same location in up to eight states for five years; the states have not been named yet. Federal law prohibits such an arrangement, but Utah has enjoyed a grandfather clause that predates those regulations.

If the eight states report positive results, as Utah has, Mr. Romney said this arrangement could become the national standard for efficiency in streamlining job placement services and eliminating bureaucracy that keeps people out of the workforce.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) supports expanding Pell grants, which traditionally benefited college students, to cover shorter-term career training programs. He applauded the community colleges in his state for updating their skilled certification offerings to reflect local and regional workforce needs.

Mr. Kaine’s bill, 21st Century Skills are Key to Individuals’ Life-Long Success (SKILLS), introduced earlier this month, also establishes a fund for career training grants up to $10,000 per person, depending on income.

Sen.  Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) introduced his Workforce Data Act bill on June 11, the day before the hearing. It calls for shared data services at the state level for lawmakers and labor officials to monitor the growth and success of career training programs and services.

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced the Youth Workforce Readiness Act last year. That legislation proposes to establish career exploration and training partnerships between local employers and future job candidates at the high school level.

“Young people are hungry to understand their options,” Ms. Smith said during the June 12 committee meeting.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) emphasized the necessity to tailor career training service options based on what’s needed locally. In her state, where only about 20 percent of communities are connected by roads as opposed to by air or sea, there’s a massive shortage of traditional trades workers.

“You’ve got builders, but they can’t get framers. They can’t get electricians. It’s all workforce, workforce, workforce.”

HELP Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said prison inmates and those released from prison should be factored into future decisions about WIOA, which also funds career training for the incarcerated. He asked for evidence that the program decreases recidivism rates and costs less than feeding and housing prisoners.

If job training services are eliminated for inmates, Mr. Sanders said, “they leave prison without the skills that they need in the civilian world.”

While representatives from state, national, and industry organizations implored senators to revamp WIOA to a program that reflects current and future workforce needs, program advocates who serve urban populations implored senators not to abandon the program’s original mission.

Taylor White, director of Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship, said WIOA was primarily designed to serve those between the ages of 16 and 24 who are disconnected from both school and the labor market. About 4.5 million people fall into that category this year.

“They work with the hard-to-serve kids,” she said. “There’s evidence of short-term [success], but not long-term. We need a clear next step for a warm handoff.”

Lisa Bly-Jones, CEO of the Chicago Jobs Council, said her agency is able to connect WIOA recipients with jobs at small and medium-sized businesses, but many of those employers don’t have the resources to address childcare, transportation, mental health care, and other “wrap-around” services.

“There’s getting the job,” she said, “and keeping the job.”

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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