White House announces focus in workforce development

By Katie Spiker, March 23, 2017

To hear President Trump and administration officials discuss it, it seems like workforce education and training will be a major part of this administration’s domestic agenda. Recently, at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and German and American companies, President Trump described workforce development and vocational training as “very important” and has said the U.S. should try to create 5 million new apprenticeships in the next five years. Ivanka Trump recently announced the launch of a taskforce on workforce development. The President has convened industry leaders to inform policy priorities through a Manufacturing Jobs Initiative and both President Trump and Ivanka Trump have taken to social media to promote the issue.

In addition, Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, emphasized the importance of partnerships between the educational community, the business community, and the government in ensuring the success of career and technical education. And Vice President Pence committed to strengthening and expanding opportunities for career and technical training and apprenticeship across the country.

Finally, the Senate began Labor Secretary Nominee Alexander Acosta’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday. In his opening comments, he mentioned the importance of job training having a substantial positive impact on American workers, but noted a better effort must be made to align training with the skills employers demand.

Unfortunately, the proposals in the President’s “skinny budget” cut approximately $2.5 billion in funding from the Department of Labor (DOL) and $9 billion from the Department of Education. A more detailed version of the President’s budget is expected in May, meaning the Administration still has the opportunity to prioritize the training programs receiving praise from senior officials. With nearly $2 billion in cuts unaccounted for in the released version of DOL’s budget, though, bipartisan groups of Governors and practitioners are expressing concern that key workforce education and training programs may not receive the funding they need to meet demand and support local businesses.

It’s especially critical to invest in education and training while the economy is good – this creates a pipeline of skilled workers to support the growth of businesses and our economy. These investments also expand access for low-skilled workers to move into higher skilled (and better paying) positions. A recent NSC study  shows that businesses in nearly every state aren’t able to find the workers with the skills they need. At the same time, there are more low-skilled workers than there are low-skilled jobs available. This mismatch costs businesses money and workers opportunity.

Minority staff at the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations estimate that proposed cuts in the budget would result in a 35 percent decrease in funding for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the law governing workforce development activities. It was passed in 2014 with overwhelming bipartisan support, and adequate funding is key to state and local areas’ ability to deliver on Congress’ bipartisan mandate.

Under WIOA, local areas are required to implement – and the majority of funding goes to support – evidence-based  strategies, such as supporting sector partnerships, and investing in career pathways. Local areas are also required to more deeply align their work with the apprenticeship system – a key opportunity for meeting the President’s goal of 5 million more apprenticeships in this country. A failure to adequately invest would undermine these local and state activities and progress towards implementing new comprehensive plans to align employment and training programs with regional economic development strategies that benefit businesses and workers alike.

As the budget process for next year continues, the Administration and Congress have the chance to support the programs at the foundation of the President’s promise to create jobs. And there will be a robust chorus of advocates in states across the country making the call for them to do so and ready to jump into action when they do.    

Urge your Members of Congress to support workforce education and training programs in the next fiscal year.