Perez hits the road visiting sector partnerships.

September 06, 2013

This week, following Labor Day, the swearing-in ceremony of newly-appointed Secretary of Labor Tom Perez was held following months of waiting for the Senate to confirm his nomination. He takes office as nearly 12 million people are out of work while over 3 million jobs are going unfilled every month because there is a skills gap in this country—employers have jobs they need to fill but can’t find workers with the skills to fill them. 

In his speech, he said “we must invest in our workforce. The skills gap is an enormous barrier to opportunity, particularly in an increasingly sophisticated economy. Many partners have to be in the huddle, with the Labor Department playing quarterback and executing a game plan for a demand-driven workforce investment system that serves the needs of businesses and workers alike."

For the past couple of months, Secretary Perez has been on the road, touring sector partnership training programs and meeting with business leaders to tackle this problem. One of the sectoral programs he visited was the Culinary Academy in Las Vegas that has been successful at training workers for good-paying jobs by partnering with two local unions and 26 major properties on the Las Vegas Strip. They train several thousand people each year in 11 job classifications for the local hospitality industry: baker’s helper, bar back, bar porter, bus person, food server, guest room attendant, house person/utility porter, professional cook, sommelier, steward, and wine server.

He also visited the 1199SEIU Training and Employment facility in New York. The program is supported by employer contributions under collective bargaining agreements and is jointly governed by labor and health industry leaders. Programs cover workers in hospitals, nursing homes, home care and clinics and provide benefits ranging from ESL and GED to fully paying college tuition up to the PHD level, as well as programs to provide skills to improve patient care. Last year over 30,000 workers availed of training opportunities.

It is estimated that there are 1,000 sector partnerships across the country similar to the Culinary Academy and 1199c. Sector partnerships are effective strategies to closing the skills gap because they bring together employers and other stakeholders connected to key local and regional industries to address immediate skill shortages by aligning training to the needs of employers, while developing workforce pipelines to ensure the future of that industry.

Secretary Perez has long supported these partnerships. During his tenure as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations (DLLR), he brought together business leaders, labor leaders, workers, the public workforce system and other stakeholders to address critical workforce development needs to strengthen our workers, our industries and our economy. 

While states like Maryland have provided support for the creation of these partnerships, there currently is no dedicated support from the federal government. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate, Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, which would provide federal grants to states for the creation of industry-led partnerships. This legislation is critical to growing these partnerships and bringing about the changes to the workforce development system that policymakers want to see.

NSC is encouraged to see Secretary Perez within his first two months touring these facilities and engaging business leaders and other stakeholders. With his leadership and support from Congress, we can close the skills gap by providing workers the skills that businesses need to grow and prosper.