Magazine article Workforce Management

A U.S. Training Upgrade

Magazine article Workforce Management

A U.S. Training Upgrade

Article excerpt

THERE IS WIDE AGREEMENT IN WASHINGTON, AND AMONG EMPLOYERS, THAT AMERICAN WORKERS NEED MORE EDUCATION AND TRAINING, BUT SOME EXPERTS SAY CURRENT FEDERAL PROPOSALS DON'T GO FAR ENOUGH. BY MARK SCHOEFF JR.

With partisan divides widening on health care reform and energy, most of the iocus in Washington currently is on legislative battles.

But the Obama administration, Congress and the private sector actually do agree on something: U.S. workers need more education and training to fill jobs that increasingly demand higher-level skills.

The House recently approved a bill that included the initial funding for President Barack Obama s plan to bolster community colleges, the American Graduation Initiative.

The $ 1 2 billion, 1 0-year program is designed to help the institutions improve their facilities and expand online education. The House measure would allocate $2.5 billion for fiscal year 2011.

Obama asserted that an additional 5 million people would earn degrees and certificates from community colleges, a down payment on his effort to ensure that by 2020 the U.S. has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

In a July 1 3 report, the White House Council of Economic Advisers projected that by 20 1 6, occupations requiring an associate s degree or advanced vocational training will grow twice as fast as jobs with fewer qualifications. Health care, education, transportation and construction will be the areas in highest demand.

If 5 million more people join the labor market with associates degrees, it could help transform notions of job training, according to Louis Soares, director of the economic mobility program at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.

"That's a material shift in how we view the workforce credential," Soares says. The degree also falls in the "sweet spot" of one to two years of postsecondary education, which many employers require for hard-to-fill jobs.

A recent Conference Board report, "The Ill-Prepared U.S. Workforce," shows that nearly half of 2 1 7 employers surveyed provide remedial training to shore up employees' writing, math and problem-solving deficiencies. The report was co-sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management, the American Society for Training & Development and Corporate Voices for Working Families.

Although there's not yet a Senate bill that includes Obama's community college plan, the idea may provide fresh thinking about the Workforce Investment Act, according to Soares.

For the last six years, Congress has failed to reauthorize the measure, which governs the federal training system. Programs continue to function, but they have not been reformed since the bill was enacted in 1 998.

A variety of political problems have created the bottleneck - from concerns about faith-based organizations providing services to worries about consolidating funding streams and protecting union jobs at federal employment offices.

Democratic leaders on the House and Senate labor committees voice optimism that the act will be reformed by the end of 2010.

In advance of the Workforce Investment Act's reauthorization, the Department of Labor is planning improvements to federal "one-stop" employment offices. The agency is seeking to deliver more services online, emphasize "green jobs," reach underserved minority populations and create career pathways rather than just provide one-off skills training. …

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