Congressman Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) voted today for legislation to streamline the current maze of federal job-training programs in order to provide American workers with a more effective network of job training services. Even as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that some 3.6 million job openings remain unfilled, approximately 12 million Americans are currently unemployed and trying to find work. And while taxpayers spend roughly $18 billion each year on a myriad of federal job-training programs, many workers are not acquiring the critical skills needed to fill in-demand jobs.
The Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803), in part, eliminates and streamlines 35 ineffective and duplicative federal programs and creates a flexible Workforce Investment Fund to serve as a single source of support for workers, employers, and job seekers. H.R. 803 passed the House this afternoon by a bipartisan vote of 215 to 202 and now awaits consideration in the Senate.
"Our federal workforce training system is a tangled, bureaucratic mess that is failing to give Michigan job seekers the skills they need to find gainful employment," said Upton. "While we are seeing many promising signs of an economic turnaround here in Southwest Michigan, statewide unemployment and underemployment remain far too high. This legislation genuinely invests in our workforce by promoting a stronger, employer-driven training system."
Testifying on February 26, 2013, before the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, Todd Gustafson -- Executive Director of Michigan Works! for Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties -- spoke favorably of the reforms sought by the SKILLS Act.
"Eliminating and streamlining the existing 35 federally funded workforce programs is vital to upgrading the nation's workforce system. The system has to change," said Gustafson in his prepared testimony. "I support the concept of creating an overarching Workforce Investment Fund at the federal level. If done equitably with the interests and needs of the states and the locals included in the design it can work. And although the Michigan model works, continuous improvement via the elimination and streamlining of funding streams at the federal level will further benefit Michigan's workforce system."
The SKILLS Act reforms have been embraced by a number of our nation's governors, who benefit from the greater administrative flexibility and reduced paperwork requirements.
"In today's global economy, business development, talent development, infrastructure and adult education must work together on a region-wide basis, to leverage scarce resources and drive economic prosperity," wrote Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in a March 5th letter to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. "By removing bureaucratic barriers and limiting prescriptive funding provisions, the SKILLS Act will provide states with the flexibility to address unique workforce development challenges with solutions that will develop the talent our new economy demands."
In addition to consolidating federal job-training programs, the SKILLS Act requires states to reserve a certain percentage of funds to specifically target individuals with unique barriers to finding employment, such as at-risk youth and low-income workers. The legislation also eliminates 19 federal mandates regarding the makeup of local Workforce Investment Boards and ensures that two-thirds of state and local board members are employers, the end-user of the job-training system.