Today, at General Plastics in Tacoma, Representative Derek Kilmer announced he will soon introduce the "Skills Investment Act of 2013", a piece of federal legislation designed to help workers save money for education and job training through the establishment of worker-owned, employer-matched savings plans called Lifelong Learning Accounts. Kilmer was joined at his announcement by local workforce development leaders, local community and vocational college representatives, local workers, and the company leadership of General Plastics.
In 2012, Representative Kilmer sponsored a bill that made Washington State the first state in the nation to formally recognize Lifelong Learning Accounts. The statewide program is set to go into effect soon. Representative Kilmer's new federal bill, which he plans to introduce next week, would expand Lifelong Learning Account programs across the country and strengthen the program already established in Washington State by offering resources and strong tax incentives for both individuals and employers to participate in the program.
Lifelong Learning Accounts are employee-owned, educational savings accounts that help workers pay for the skills training and education they need to stay competitive for years to come. With this bill, contributions will be tax free, and both workers and employers will get tax credits for their contributions to the accounts.
Lifelong Learning Accounts are similar to 401ks for workforce development, in that they are an entirely voluntary way to help workers upgrade their skills and enable them to improve their training and work their way up the wage ladder or to find a new job. Workers also get guidance on the high-growth, high-demand jobs in their area and get assistance identifying how they can get the training and knowledge they need to be strong candidates for those positions.
This program would be a partnership with the states, enabling them to develop their own innovative approaches to encourage workers and employers to invest in skills development. The accounts are well-suited to those workers who want to enhance their skills but can only afford to attend college less than half-time. These programs have already been proven successful in state-led pilot projects, including in Washington.
"We need to ensure that today's workers are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. This bill is a win-win for workers and employers because it protects the American Dream and helps create a pathway to affordable education and good jobs for millions of Americans," said Representative Derek Kilmer. "Lifelong Learning Accounts are a flexible tool to help workers get education and training to reach their career goals, earn higher wages, and make a better life for their families. For employers, Lifelong Learning Accounts offer a new way to attract and retain great employees. This bill will improve on the program that Washington State will soon offer and help ensure that our home remains an excellent place for businesses to plant their roots and grow."
Cindy Zehnder, chair of Washington's Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board said, "Washington's workers and their employers have demonstrated how valuable this new education co-investment model can be. Since our state's pilot project launched in 2009, participating employees have invested nearly $20,000 in a variety of education programs, gaining new skills and advancing their careers in an affordable way."