By Congressman John F. Tierney
Patrick Cole, a veteran from Lynn, Massachusetts, first began to struggle to find work in the construction industry in 2008 and b 2009, despite all his efforts, was forced to file for unemployment. Along with so many other Americans, he did not know where to turn. Fortunately, Patrick learned of and applied for a spot in a new manufacturing certificate program spearheaded by the North Shore Workforce Investment Board along with North Shore Community College and General Electric. This innovative partnership is training local residents for the jobs that are actually available in our community. Patrick is one of 19 people who is receiving high skilled, targeted job training and who will be getting a job at GE when he completes the program in June.
This kind of success story should not be such a rare occurrence. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 3.5 million open jobs nationwide, many that cannot be filled due to a lack of qualified candidates.
In the coming months, the US House of Representatives is expected to move forward on reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act, a law passed by Congress in 1998 to ensure workers are properly trained to fill the jobs that businesses need to succeed. Currently, workforce investment boards, chaired by business representatives and comprised of educational institutions, economic development agencies, community-based organizations, labor unions, and other stakeholders, oversee one-stop career centers where workers go to get help with their job search and to access occupational and training courses. An estimated 3,000 one-stop career centers are operating across the country, but too often we hear that they are struggling to meet the needs of today's workers and businesses. The upcoming debate in Congress provides a real opportunity for discussion on critical services that are getting Americans back to work, but that need to be modernized, strengthened, and in some cases made more efficient.
That's why, along with Congressmen George Miller of California and Ruben Hinojosa of Texas, I recently introduced comprehensive legislation -- entitled the Workforce Investment Act of 2012 -- that will strengthen a law passed over 13 years ago when the unemployment rate was below 5 percent and before many of today's high-growth industry sectors even existed. Our bill will expand opportunities for workers, support businesses, promote innovation, improve accountability, and assist with our country's economic recovery. We need to build upon innovative programs, like the certificate in manufacturing program in which Patrick is participating, and replicate them across the country. Numerous companies in our area have already expressed that they would participate in an expanded or similar program.
The Workforce Investment Act of 2012 is driven by three core principles: streamlining and coordinating programs, strengthening accountability and promoting innovation. The bill will help cut the red tape, establish competitive grant programs to support innovative new strategies, expand the role of community colleges, involve more businesses and partnerships, and increase the use of on-the-job training, transitional jobs, and paid work experience so that individuals can enter or re-enter the labor market more quickly.
While some in Congress assert that the debt from disastrous policies of 2001-2008, including excessive borrowing, regulatory lapses, enormous tax cuts for those in the very highest income brackets, means that we now cannot afford to invest in getting people back to work, I disagree. What we cannot afford to do is fall short of our investment in workers of all ages and abilities. What we cannot afford to do is put their dreams of a well-paying job and their hope for a better future for their children out of reach.
In the coming months, I will be searching for open-minded colleagues in both parties with whom I can work to improve workforce training and education across our country. For more than 13 years, the Workforce Investment Act has provided critical support for our workers, our businesses, and our communities. Now, as our economy slowly recovers, it is time to update and strengthen the law to ensure that businesses can find skilled Americans to hire, unemployed Americans have access to training and education programs, and local and regional partnerships have the necessary support to allow our country to continue to compete on the global stage.
John F. Tierney represents the 6th District of Massachusetts and serves on the Education and the Workforce Committee.