As I travel all across our state, I have extensive conversations with small business owners and workers about the challenges they face. While there is no doubt that our nation's unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, I have met with employers in Maine who have jobs available but who cannot find qualified and trained workers to fill these vacant positions.
In an effort to help provide resources to connect these employers with skilled workers, I cosponsored the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which recently passed the U.S. Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. This bipartisan legislation streamlines, modernizes, and improves existing federal workforce development programs so as to narrow the "skills gap" between the position's requirements and the worker's training.
WIOA reforms and improves programs that I have long supported such as YouthBuild and Job Corps, which have proven track records of job training success, and the bill puts in place financial responsibility requirements at the Department of Labor to make sure these programs remain on track. WIOA also eliminates other programs found to be ineffective or duplicative, saving the taxpayer from poor job training investments. The bill also sets standard performance measurements for all programs, with a focus on employment outcomes and employer satisfaction in an attempt to make sure the job training programs continue to match up with employer needs.
I have seen how workforce training programs can not only help people find good jobs, but also improve their lives. I recently had the honor of speaking at the YouthBuild graduation ceremony in Biddeford. YouthBuild is a community-based program for at-risk young people ages 16-24. Students spend half their time attending basic education classes and half their time receiving job skills training in the construction field. It was an honor to offer these graduates some words of advice, and inspiring to see the doors of opportunity opening for them. The combination of skills, self-confidence, and determination programs like YouthBuild and Job Corps offer can help people overcome the setbacks, obstacles, and failures that are part of life.
In addition, the Department of Labor recently announced that Maine will receive more than $4.8 million in funding to help provide job training to workers in high-demand industries who, through no fault of their own, lost their jobs. This funding, providing through the Job-Driven National Emergency Grant program, will help create and expand partnerships that provide opportunities for on-the-job training such as apprenticeships. For far too many unemployed Mainers, the struggle to find a new job is all too real.
These resources will only help improve our country's workforce development system and put Americans back to work. While each state has its own particular opportunities and challenges, it is our responsibility to do what we can to help employers nationwide find skilled workers and create jobs.