Witnesses told a House committee today that the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) system needs to be modernized to better assist out-of-work Americans, including the long-term unemployed, acquire the skills that growing industries need.
"These investments need to be smart investments," said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat of the Education and the Workforce Committee. "They need to be made efficiently and effectively, ensuring job training and employment services get to people who need them. And, those services need to reflect current and future labor market demands."
Reps. John Tierney (D-MA), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) and Miller recently introduced legislation to modernize and increase accountability of the national workforce investment and training system. The Workforce Investment Act of 2012 (H.R. 4227) would help workers find jobs and careers through strategic partnerships with in-demand sector employers, community colleges, labor organizations, and non-profits.
"As our economy continues to recover, we must not fall short in our investment in workers of all ages and abilities. For more than 13 years, the Workforce Investment Act has provided critical support for our workers, our businesses, and our communities. Now 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," said Tierney. "Employers and employees (and future employees) all have a stake in ensuring that people of diverse educational and training capacities have pathways to enter and succeed in the workplace."
"Now more than ever, we must help American workers and adult learners access the education and job training they need to acquire good, family sustaining jobs and to increase their literacy skills," said Hinojosa. "The Workforce Investment Act must create a 21st century delivery system for adult education and workforce training that leads to career pathways for our nation's increasingly diverse workforce."
Witnesses agreed that investments in the nation's workforce training system are critical to maintain our economic recovery and long-term global competitiveness.
"The Workforce Investment Act, at its core, is about jobs," said Norma Noble, the deputy secretary of commerce for workforce development of WorkForce Solutions in Oklahoma City. "If there was ever a time for a 'must pass' piece of legislation, now would be that time to fix America's workforce system and get America back to work."
Another witness agreed.
"One thing Mr. Miller said was the manner in which we reauthorize WIA is vital and important. WIA is such a strong program and is the best workforce program," said Sandy Harmsen, the director of the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Department of Workforce Development. "We agree with that 100 percent."
Committee Republicans also recently introduced legislation to rewrite the Workforce Investment Act. Questions were raised about whether the consolidation of 27 programs that is called for in the Republican alternative would allow limited resources to be diverted away from those who need it most and weaken workers' ability to find careers, not just jobs.
"Consolidation, in and of itself, is not reform. Simply combining 27 funding streams into one will not automatically result in a more effective, efficient system if nothing changes in how those funds are being used at the state and local level," said Andy Van Kleunen, the executive director of the National Skills Coalition. "Congress should make specific, targeted investments in key strategies that we know work, and require all states, not just the high‐performing innovators, to implement those strategies as is appropriate for their local and regional labor market needs."
Van Kleunen also said there is great concern over proposals to deeply cut training and education programs for millions of Americans and businesses who use WIA services.
House Republicans 2013 budget would reduce spending in the category of Education, Training, Employment and Social Services, which includes job-training programs, by $16 billion, or 22 percent. Last year, Republicans proposed to cut nearly $3 billion specifically from workforce development and training programs. These cuts would weaken the ability of millions of under- and unemployed Americans to find a pathway back to work, limiting businesses' ability to hire a skilled workforce.
"We fear the passage of [the Republican bill], regardless of the intentions of its authors, would be used to justify extremely deep cuts in skills investments," said Van Kleunen.