A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Obama's Job Training Reform Met With a Mix of Hope and Skepticism

The Construction Citizen team has long held the position that any good faith effort to try to close the skills gap in America should be welcomed with open arms. The players on this landscape are as politically diverse as Glenn Beck on the right and now President Obama and some of his supporters on the left. Naturally, any initiative proposed by any politician is going to be met with some skepticism. But if there’s a chance the federal government can aid employers in finding the kind of skilled workers they need – and therefore place those workers in jobs that better their families and communities – then we are encouraged to see it.

A push by the Obama Administration to reform the way the government engages in job training is underway, led by Vice President Joe Biden. His responsibility for overseeing this was announced during the State of the Union address, and since then has been met with a mix of skepticism as well as hope. The order signed by the president has been billed as an “across-the-board” reform review designed to make those programs more “job-driven”. Imagine that.

“We've got a lot of programs, but not all of them are doing what they should be doing to get people (trained) for jobs that exist right now,” Obama said.

The order gives Biden six months to work with the secretaries of Labor, Commerce and Education to develop an action plan that will force federal agencies to work as seamlessly as possible with employers to identify which skills are needed and to share that information with trainers and job seekers.

“There are plenty of jobs out there, and there’s a mismatch now in terms of skills and the jobs that are available,” Biden said.

Obama also launched a competition for the final $500 million of a community college training fund to help develop job-driven training partnerships with employers and industry.

The Wall Street Journal was quite skeptical, not only about whether this will work but about the intentions as well (subscription required):

“The President said he's asked Mr. Biden to review the programs because he ‘can't wait for’ Republicans in Congress, but Republicans are way ahead of him. Nearly a year ago the House passed legislation with comprehensive reforms, which South Carolina Republican Tim Scott introduced in the Senate last month.

“The House Skills Act would consolidate 35 overlapping programs and essentially block-grant job training dollars to the states. Most federal mandates dictating the composition of Workforce Investment Boards would be eliminated save for one requiring that two-thirds be employers – that is, the people who hire workers. The legislation would also standardize seven ‘performance metrics’, which would include training-related jobs.

“The AFL-CIO opposes the legislation because it would give ‘wide discretion to pick and choose eligible groups of participants, make programs more vulnerable to funding cuts, and pit one group of workers against another in competition for limited resources.’ Big Labor wants Democrats to ‘strengthen the existing system’ and ‘maintain the current programs and funding streams.’ In other words, more money, no reform.

“We'll know Mr. Biden is serious if he meets Republicans halfway and consolidates the current job-training mess. Otherwise he'll be conducting a redundant review of redundant programs that even President Obama says are ineffective but he nonetheless wants to preserve.”

Others like Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who served as Biden's chief economic adviser from 2009 to 2011, said the issue is a good fit for the Vice President. Bernstein told USA Today that his old boss is the right man to tackle this challenge. “You need the person in charge to be willing to break some eggs,” he said. As the paper reported:

“‘Most states are working on private-public partnerships to train people for high-demand jobs, but it's unclear how far they've gotten,’ Holzer said. ‘If Biden evaluates state efforts and understands which efforts have worked, he could build a strong basis for reform.’”

If Biden’s reform recommendations bear fruit, fixing this problem will still require the efforts of the government as well as private employers through initiatives like the Construction Career Collaborative here in Texas.

While liberals might be inclined to only look to government for solutions and conservatives might only want this addressed by the private sector, it seems to me this challenge is so large that nothing should be ruled out. We’ll keep tabs on Biden’s efforts and report back to you.

Bonus:  You may listen to Vice President Biden’s speech which he gave on January 30 at Monroe Community College's Applied Technology Center in the 29-minute video below.

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