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- Skills Mismatch
In a strong display of partnership and purpose, 10 business leaders from small and medium-sized enterprises from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C. earlier this week with a common mission – to advocate for critical policies and investments in training our workforce. Businesses nationwide are facing a key barrier to growth: an insufficient pipeline of skilled workers available to hire for current job vacancies. These business leaders understand that a well-trained and skilled workforce is the cornerstone of economic growth – and that a major reason for the trained worker shortage is that workers have insufficient access to skills training in in-demand industries.
The participants took part in a full day of legislative meetings, including interactions with legislators from their home state – but also with key committee staff from the Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (which oversees workforce and education in the Senate), as well as the House Education and Workforce Committee. Their message to all of these policymakers was clear: Congress must support worker and employer needs by investing in our workforce system – including funding for skills training, supportive services, and sector partnerships.
Ensuring skills training is on the appropriations agenda.
It was a critical time for Congress to hear from business leaders about the importance of investing in workforce programs. Legislators are currently considering annual funding legislation and debating 2024 appropriations and it’s more important than ever to ensure that funding for skills training is on the appropriations agenda. Unfortunately, for more than two decades, Congress has steadily cut investments in critical workforce programs. As a result, our workforce system has been unable to meet demand from employers and workers. These businesses asked Congress to reverse course and end the workforce cuts. Instead, they’re calling for Congress to begin to address the skills mismatch, create a more equitable economy, meet employer needs, and support workers throughout their careers through sufficient investments in workforce programs through the 2024 appropriations process.
The need to establish, expand, and invest in industry sector partnerships.
Industry-driven sector partnerships unite key workforce stakeholders such as businesses, training providers, community colleges, and labor unions and ensure that industry needs drive training programs. They also assist workers – particularly those from communities and demographics that have historically faced barriers to accessing training for good jobs. Small and mid-sized businesses often have limited resources to develop internal training programs, so they draw particular benefit from sector partnerships. While sector partnerships are a required strategy under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), they have faced funding challenges within an already underfunded workforce system.
Fly-in participants gave their elected officials a refresher on sector partnerships – what they are, why they’re important, how different stakeholders work together. And they shared real-world stories about the sector partnerships they created or participated in with their business. They called on their representatives to provide dedicated funding for the establishment and expansion of industry sector partnerships and the training and education programs related to those partnerships.
“Investments in skills training and sector partnerships are critical for the Tidewater region in Virginia and the Maritime Industry,” said Scott Kelly, Director of Production and Workforce Development at QED Systems, Inc. “Our company heavily invests in training, and this investment has made a huge difference in the quality of our craftsmen and our products, which builds a dedicated workforce. Skilled trades are at the highest demand in decades and skilled labor demands are only going to grow, and our growing sector partnership will help to train workers and market the great jobs in our industry.”
“Any investment in the education of our future employees is a net increase to the safety of our industry and our ability to provide excellent service to our customers,” said Mark Robinson, Manager External Affairs at Southwestern Electric Power Company. “Skills based training is a crucial tool in the tool belts of our future line workers and sector partnerships are of particular importance in the electric industry because we provide mutual assistance in times of emergency restoration. Continuing skills-based education is vital to knowing that a responding utility company has the same standards of safety and excellence while restoring power to communities.”
Boosting workforce training opportunities and wraparound services for workers
Participants also emphasized the need for Congress to bolster investments in workforce programs including supporting career and technical education, adult education, and WIOA which should be inclusive of digital skills training, incumbent worker training / upskilling, and career services. This funding is pivotal because it enables more people to access training programs that lead to good jobs while allowing businesses to find skilled workers for in-demand positions. In addition, funding wraparound services like childcare, transportation, and career support is essential for completion and long-term success. Federal investments in these services help ensure the burden of paying for the total cost of training does not fall solely on employers or on workers.
In terms of specific policy changes – participants asked Congress to expand Pell Grant eligibility to short-term, high-quality training programs that help workers access skills training and help businesses hire. Pell Grants offer financial support for postsecondary education beyond high school, but existing regulations prevent their use for short-term training. Quality short-term programs lead to in-demand credentials and offer flexible educational and skills training opportunities for people looking to upskill or reskill while working or caring for their families. By linking these certificates and credentials to industry demand, expanding Pell Grant access can qualify a more diverse workforce for job opportunities and business hiring needs, which lead to postsecondary credentials.
They also asked that the provisions of the 21st Century Skills Act be included in the reauthorization of WIOA. The 21st Century Skills Act would create Skills Training Grants that provide up to $10,000 to individuals with low- and moderate-incomes for training services, wrap around supports, and career services. Skills Training Grants would allow more workers, including those who may not be eligible for Pell grants, to receive skills training tied to industry-demand.
Laying the groundwork or future investment
BLU’s goal was to remind Congress about the importance of sector partnerships and workforce investments as policymakers gear up for the appropriations debate to ensure that skills training takes its rightful place on their agenda as we head into 2024 and the second year of the 118th Congress. BLU looks forward to working with our network, the administration, and Congressional champions to advance skills training policy, solve the nation’s skills mismatch, and build the workforce that businesses need to grow and thrive.