Tell Congress: Invest in what works to put people back to work

Last week, I was privileged to be part of Massachusetts’ delegation to the 2012 Skills Summit.  Held each year by the National Skills Coalition, the Summit brings together workforce professionals and advocates from around the country to be briefed on recent developments in federal workforce policy and funding and then to advocate with our state Congressional delegations on behalf of federal investments in skills training and education.

It seems unbelievable that at a time of high national unemployment anyone should be arguing for drastic cuts to skills training that helps people get back to work and that helps companies find the people they need, but these arguments are being made, and it’s up to us to counter them.

I thought I’d share just a few talking points from the Summit, which you might consider passing onto your own Representatives and Senators!

The Problem:

  • Despite continued high unemployment, employers face difficulties finding qualified workers: a recent Manpower survey found that 52 percent of US employers struggled to fill critical vacancies in 2011.
  • About half of all job openings over the next decade will be middle-skill jobs–jobs that require more than a high school diploma but not necessarily a four-year degree.  This is where the skills gap is most pronounced.
  • Without meaningful public investments in a skilled workforce, the skills gap will stifle job growth and slow our nation’s economic recovery.

The Answer:

  • Federally-funded workforce programs arepartof the solution to our  jobs crisis.  Yes, we need more jobs, but we also need to help employers fill the job openings they have now and the ones they will have as the economy recovers.
  • In 2011 alone, more than 9 million individuals received training and employment services through Workforce Investment Act Title I programs.
  • Pell Grants helped more than 9 million low-income students pursue post-secondary degrees and credentials, including many working adults trying to better their career prospects.
  • Workforce training that engages employers, leads to recognized credentials, and directly link training with jobs in in-demand, middle-skill industries are key to our nation’s economig growth.  And this kind of training is proven to be effective, according to a recent GAO report.

The Challenge:

  • Despite sky-rocketing demand from both workers and employers for workforce training, Congress continues to propose extremely deep cuts to job training and employment services.
  • In the last decade, federal funding for workforce programs has declined by more than 30 percent–including more than $1 billion in just the last two years.
  • Congress  just enacted changes to the Pell Grant program that could eliminate access for nearly 150,000 students next year alone and reduce grants for up to 250,000 additional students.  These changes will most impact non-traditional students, likely even further reducing access to skills training for working adults.

Three Asks:

  • Reject cuts to the Workforce Investment Act and other federal workforce programs, including any consolidation proposals that would result in net funding reductions for workforce programs.
  • Maintain the current maximum Pell Grant award at $5,550 and reverse policy changes that restrict or eliminate access to postsecondary education for more than 400,000 low- and moderate-income students next year alone.
  • Invest in effective, targeted employment and skills training strategies–such as sector partnerships, career pathways, training connected to subsidized employment–that lead to industry-recognized credentials.  Ensure workers and employers alike have access to the skills they need for our nation to compete in the global economy.

Ready to take action?  The National Skills Coalition can help you get started!



Author: SkillWorks

SkillWorks is a nationally recognized workforce funder collaborative, launched by the Boston Foundation in 2003 to improve workforce development in Boston and across Massachusetts. SkillWorks brings together philanthropy, government, community organizations and employers to address the twin goals of: 1) Helping low-skill, low-income individuals attain family-supporting jobs; and 2) Helping employers find and retain skilled employees.

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