The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), today held a hearing on the urgent need to strengthen the federal workforce development system. Members discussed a number of legislative proposals intended to address flaws in federal job training policies, including the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act.
"Today's workforce development system is failing workers, employers, and taxpayers," said Chairwoman Foxx. "Instead of a dynamic network of employment support, we have a massive bureaucracy that stifles innovation and wastes resources. The need to fundamentally change the status quo has never been greater. President Obama said last year that it was "time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system.' That is precisely what the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act will do."
The SKILLS Act (H.R. 803) reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act, which has not been reformed since 2003. State and local workforce development leaders described the need to reauthorize federal law and discussed the positive reforms reflected in the legislation.
Dr. R. Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System, noted that it is "important that reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act streamlines programs, limits administrative overhead, and enables state and local flexibility to design systems that meet the legislative goals in the most effective and efficient manner. Simplifying the system and moving past the myriad of multiple program titles and funding streams is a fundamental step."
The SKILLS Act eliminates and streamlines 35 duplicative and ineffective programs and creates a Workforce Investment Fund to serve as the primary source of support for employers, workers, and job seekers. However, removing inefficiencies and simplifying the system is only part of a broader strategy to ensure workers have the skills they need to succeed in today's workforce.
Job training reform must also strengthen the role of job creators, state leaders, and local officials to better align services with in-demand jobs. The SKILLS Act eliminates onerous federal mandates, provides greater representation of employers on workforce investment boards, and empowers state and local leaders to determine the remaining representatives.
As Todd Gustafson, executive director of Michigan Works--Berrien-Cass-Van Buren, noted, "Eliminating the 19 federal mandates on representation will further strengthen business engagement. Requiring two-thirds of board members to be employers will enhance the shift from a supply side designed system to a demand or market driven system."
Mr. Gustafson added, "Eliminating mandates will also help attract higher caliber local business and community leaders who otherwise feel disempowered and ultimately uninterested among a large unfocused group. Smaller boards are a best practice in both the private-for-profit and non-profit sectors and should be applied to the government's workforce system."
Chris Hart, president and CEO of Workforce Florida, Inc., praised the legislation: "The proposed SKILLS Act, at its very core, is about maintaining our nation's global economic leadership and accelerating economic progress for Americans by focusing on jobs and a modern talent delivery system that produces skilled and knowledgeable workers. The Act equips states to better attract, retain and create jobs by serving three primary customers: businesses, workers and job seekers."
"I welcome the opportunity to advance commonsense reforms that will fix a broken workforce development system and serve the best interests of our country," concluded Chairwoman Foxx. "It is time to be bold with how we prepare today's workers to compete and succeed in this new economy."