Statements from NSC CEO Andy Van Kleunen and BLU Member Traci Tapani on Investments in Workforce Development

By Nicky Lauricella Coolberth, July 22, 2021

Washington, D.C. — On Thursday, July 22 at 12pm EST, NSC CEO Andy Van Kleunen and BLU Member Traci Tapani joined House Committee on Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott for a remote press conference with Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, Education Department Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici to highlight the importance of investing in workforce development.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of Americans out of the workforce and demonstrated the importance of providing quality training to help workers and businesses succeed in the modern economy. The American Jobs Plan proposed a $100 billion investment in workforce training programs and other services to connect workers with good-paying jobs and provide businesses a new pipeline of talented employees.

The following is the prepared remarks of NSC CEO Andy Van Kleunen

This morning, we had an unexpected jump in initial jobless claims (almost 420,000), even as we’re now 17 months into this pandemic and uneven economic recovery.  We have nearly 10 million Americans officially unemployed, including 4 million long-term unemployed and over 3 million people who have lost their jobs permanently. And those numbers don’t include another 6.5 million people who have dropped out of the workforce completely but who want to work.

These are the people who are being left behind by our economy’s re-opening.  For many of them—particularly workers of color and low-wage workers—these impacts could be permanent unless we invest in them now to position them for the new, skilled jobs that are going to be part of a different post-pandemic economy. 

Thank you to Chairman Scott, Secretary Walsh, and all of Members of Congress on today’s call highlighting the long overdue need for the $100 billion investment in workforce training called for in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan.

Too many times in the past, when Washington has passed transportation bills or stimulus packages to help jump-start our economy, we have not included investments in worker training alongside other job-creation measures.  And inevitably, those in most need of those skilled jobs therefore never had the chance to train for one of those jobs to jump-start new careers to support themselves and their communities.  The framework in the American Jobs Plan ends that trend.

And as you’ve heard today, there is broad-based agreement on this from all corners. You’ve heard it today from the business leaders like Traci in manufacturing, and we’ve similarly heard it from business leaders, labor leaders, community colleges and community leaders across a range of other employment sectors covered by our organization’s Industry Recovery Panels

What’s more, our polling shows that 89% of American voters, across Democratic, Republican and Independent party affiliations, want to see significant new investments in workforce training in any infrastructure package approved by Congress, to ensure that all Americans—including those most impacted by the pandemic—have a chance to share in the jobs created by federal investments in roads, bridges, transportation, clean water and clean energy.

To date, Congress has thankfully invested over $5 trillion in helping to rescue and support workers and local businesses from the most painful aspects of this pandemic.  But we have spent less than $350 million to date on actually helping workers train for the economic recovery that is to come.  The $100 billion investment in people called for in the American Jobs Plan must be passed to right that imbalance.  To negotiate it away, to treat investing in our people as less important than bricks or mortar or steel, is both an insult to the American worker, and a recipe for a slowed recovery as business continue to struggle find skilled workers to fill open positions.

The following are the prepared remarks from BLU member Traci Tapani

An innovative and growing manufacturing base is vital to providing good jobs and securing our economic future. Labor shortages existed in the manufacturing sector prior to the pandemic, which were exacerbated by the public health crisis.

These shortages worsened, across the manufacturing industry, and businesses are still down half a million jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels. The $100b in workforce development proposed in the American Jobs Plan proposal is critical to ensuring that we have capacity to train workers to fill open jobs. Six out of 10 manufacturing jobs in Minnesota were deemed “hard-to-fill” before the pandemic, a rate that held steady during the pandemic. Hard-to-fill manufacturing jobs are more likely to be located in greater Minnesota. (65%), among small businesses with 55 or fewer employees (71%), and require a certificate or Associate’s Degree (75%).

An equitable economic recovery and a more diverse manufacturing workforce are essential goals. Both require a broad and inclusive hiring pipeline that primes young people and adults for the industry. This requires adequate resources for programs that prepare workers to enter – and progress within – manufacturing and other industries that are hiring now. These pathways are critical to dismantling biases and practices that have excluded women and people of color from manufacturing jobs.

We train all of our workers on our factory floor, but we also rely on federally funded workforce development programs to develop a talent pipeline in our region. In order for small and midsize companies to be job creators, we need public investment in training programs, which will be critical to helping small business owners get back on their feet after the pandemic.  

Investments in manufacturing, research, and innovation will create demand for rapid, short-term training and upskilling. This short-term training can lead to an immediate job or support a promotion. It can also help a person quickly develop baseline skills to enter longer-term apprenticeships. The manufacturing industry needs policymakers to dramatically expand access to high-quality, short-term training in traditional training settings and at technical and community colleges.

The pandemic has accelerated the demand for digital skills, which were already important in the modern environments of advanced and precision manufacturing.  Workers must be able to use tools such as 3D printers on the shop floor, monitor and interpret data from sensors throughout a facility, and even use “wearable tech” to receive in-the-moment training through virtual reality. New and incumbent manufacturing workers need access to foundational digital skills that serve as a baseline for adapting to ongoing technological change. They also need access to training that develops higher-level industry- and job-specific digital skills.