David Cicilline: Congress agrees to modernize job training system

Providencejournal.com
Monday, July 14, 2014

By David Cicilline

These days it’s a challenge getting Congress to agree on just about anything. And, too often when there is common ground, ideological differences block progress that could otherwise provide meaningful outcomes for middle-class American families. This is no way to run a democracy and Congress needs to do a better job reaching compromises that promote economic growth, support job creation and move our country forward.

I was encouraged to see Democrats and Republicans break through this kind of impasse. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved by an overwhelming majority the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Earlier this year the Senate passed an identical bill by a vote of 95 to 3 and now that it has passed both the House and the Senate, President Obama is expected to sign this legislation into law shortly.

To build our middle class and prepare Americans for the jobs of the 21st century, we must expand workforce development opportunities while helping businesses match unfilled jobs with skilled workers so they can grow and create jobs here at home. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act will make much-needed upgrades to America’s existing workforce development system and help put Americans back to work.

Across the country, there are over 4 million unfilled jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce Act estimates that by 2020, 5 million U.S. workers will lack the necessary postsecondary education qualifications to fill positions that will be available in the job marketplace.

Rhode Island, unfortunately, is not immune to this national trend. As part of my “Congress at your Company” series, I visit businesses across the First District and see many available jobs unfilled because employers can’t find workers with the right skills. Earlier this year, a report released by Tech Collective, a non-profit technology industry association, found that “Rhode Island faces an IT skills gap” and that “only 65 percent of employers said their current IT talent base was ‘adequate.’” As the Providence Journal reported, Carlos Santiago, senior deputy commissioner for academic affairs for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education projects a regional shortfall of 50,000 workers in coming years in the professions of science, technology, engineering and math.

Businesses across our state such as Raytheon, Electric Boat and Rhode Island Hospital demand highly-skilled workers that can employ cutting-edge technology to produce high-quality goods and services. We have a responsibility to prepare jobseekers for the 21st century workforce and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act will help modernize existing job-training programs by creating a more streamlined workforce development system; providing access to real-world education and development opportunities, including customized training; soliciting business input on the skills they desire and connecting workers with opportunities to build those skills; and improving outreach to disconnected youth.

On the state level, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has made workforce development her top priority and advanced parts of the “Rhode to Work” plan to help jobless Rhode Islanders, who are unemployed because they lack the skills they need to fill available jobs.

In Congress, both Democrats and Republicans recognized this issue demands immediate action and worked together to enact the Workforce Innovations and Opportunity Act to modernize our federal workforce development system. The bill also received support from dozens of labor, business, disability advocacy, and workforce development organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, and National Retail Federation, among others.

I was proud to support the final agreement to bring our existing workforce training programs into the 21st century, but we still need to get to work on other job creating bills that will replenish the Highway Trust Fund, reauthorize the Export-Import Bank and support American manufacturers.

This is what the American people expect from Congress and I will continue working with my colleagues — both Democrats and Republicans — to expand economic opportunities for Rhode Island and get Rhode Islanders back to work.

David Cicilline represents Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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