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This week, Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships(BLU), brought over 50 business leaders from across the nation to Washington, D.C. to share their vision for a demand-driven federal workforce system with members of President Obama’s Cabinet, senior White House officials, senior agency staff, and over 50 members of Congress and their staff.
During a joint discussion on Monday evening with Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, the 50 business leaders, ranging in size from a 13-person manufacturing shop to a national corporation of over 130,000 employees, shared their ideas for a more concerted national skills policy driven by sector partnerships.
The following morning, the business leaders continued this discussion with over 15 senior staff from the White House National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council, the Department of Labor and Department of Commerce.
Later that day, the business leaders took their message to the Hill with over 50 separate meetings with congressional offices. They wrapped up their visit with an employer-led briefing for Democratic and Republican staff of Senators serving on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP). Participants strongly urged the Committee to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) with dedicated support for sector partnerships.
Liza Smitherman, vice president of professional development for Jostin Construction, Inc. and a partner in Brewster Pumping, LLC. based in Cincinnati, OH, spoke at the briefing about her local sector partnerships and the need for dedicated federal support. “I once was excited when our company was awarded new construction contracts. Now my first thought is ‘do we have the workers to complete this project.’ I have nearly 30 jobs to fill but I can’t find workers with the skills to fill them. And other construction companies in the greater Cincinnati area are in the same situation. We’re working together to begin to solve this shortage but what we need is for the federal workforce system to be our partner in solving this problem.”
Erick Ajax, vice president and co-owner of E.J. Ajax and Sons, a third-generation company providing innovative metal forming solutions, told Committee staff that the federal government can be a partner in helping to create and grow sector partnerships, like the M-Powered partnership in Minnesota, by ensuring that federal workforce programs include employer involvement in shaping the training to better reflect the needs of local and regional industries.
“Here in Minnesota local businesses that are competing with each other in the same industry are working with each other to address these skills gap issues. We’re doing so because it’s critical to our ability to produce our products and expand our business. We would welcome the same inclination toward cooperation across the aisle on these issues in Washington,” said Ajax.
During the briefing, Walt Czyrnik from Mid-South Independent Electrical Contractors Association delivered a letter to staff for Senator Alexander, ranking member of the HELP Committee, signed by 50 Memphis employers asking the Senator to support the inclusion of the SECTORS Act in WIA.
In addition to meetings with policymakers, the fly-in included rich discussions between the employers themselves about challenges and success in building and participating in their local workforce partnerships, with specific ideas for how BLU and its national partner organizations could provide them practical information and inter-employer exchange on those issues.
“Businesses need to be at the table, driving the discussion on how to better align our federal workforce development programs with the skills America’s industries and workers need to succeed,” said Scott Ellsworth, vice-president of U.S. operations for Tipco Punch, Inc. and chair of BLU. “Employers look forward to continuing this dialogue with the Administration and Congress to solve the skills gap and better equip our workforce with the skills for the jobs we’re hiring for now and into the future.”
BLU is an employer-led project supported by National Skills Coalition, National Fund for Workforce Solutions and Skills for America’s Future at the Aspen Institute. The business leaders at this year’s Fly-In represented a range of industries including construction, finance, health care, information technology, manufacturing and shipbuilding.