Growing up in Port Angeles, Washington, I saw firsthand the pain and difficulty that many families felt due to job losses in the timber industry.

Seeing their struggles led me to become an economic development professional in Washington state and later to run for Congress. I knew that if I could help people find work together we could build a stronger regional economy and put the tough times behind us. That’s why I was pleased to introduce a bill at the close of last month to extend the life of a program with a proven track record helping our workers get the skills they need to compete for quality jobs: the Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2014.

Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) is a program that helps trade-affected workers transition to new fields through on-the-job training, personalized skill and employment consultation, re-employment and relocation allowances, and health benefits. Established under President Kennedy’s Trade Act of 1962, the program has helped countless Americans get back to work by giving them opportunities to acquire new skills. That’s more important than ever: with unemployment at 6.7 percent as of this month and the number of people working or searching for work the lowest it’s been since the late 1970s, we need to prioritize skill development. As a recent Department of Labor report found, over 4 million jobs remain open nationwide. The jobs are there, but we need to train our workers to fill them.

The program also provides valuable support to employers who may be challenged by foreign imports.  When I worked in economic development, we’d frequently connect small businesses to Trade Adjustment Assistance so they could pursue new sales and marketing strategies, efforts to upskill their workers, or other investments to improve the competitiveness of their products and their businesses.  I believe exporting American goods and services – not jobs – can help our economy come back from the worst recession since the Great Depression. Since 2009 we’ve experienced four consecutive years of record-breaking export levels. Those exports help create jobs here at home: export-related jobs have increased by 1.3 million since 2010. Our trade strategy should continue to be focused on finding more ways to sell products to customers around the globe stamped “Made in the USA.”

 Along with boosting exports, we have to continue programs like TAA that give trade-affected workers the support and training necessary to jump back into the workforce and help small businesses stay competitive.  That’s why TAA is so important. According to a study of the Department of Labor, the program helped 71 percent of participants find new jobs in FY 2012, 91 percent of whom remained on the job six months after hiring. More importantly, the number of workers who found a job as a result of TAA increased 4 of the past 5 years, growing at a yearly average of 5 percent a year. In total, over 138,000 workers received training, with over 98,000 obtaining a degree or industry-recognized credential to help them take the next step in their careers.

As a member of the New Democrat Coalition, I am proud to be part of a group that has maintained a commitment to TAA for years. Over the last decade, we worked with presidents in both parties to extend the availability of training to service industry workers and expand the benefits available to all. This year, the lead sponsor on the bill, my fellow New Democrat Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Over 500 amendments proposed for defense bill | Measures address transgender troops, Yemen war | Trump taps acting VA chief as permanent secretary Congress, Trump eye new agency to invest in projects overseas Overnight Defense: House panel passes 6B defense bill | What's in the bill and what didn't make the cut | Pentagon details 'failures' in Niger operation | Trump, Kim meeting set MORE and I worked with leaders in and out of the Coalition to build support for an extension that would keep TAA available to workers through the end of the decade. We owe it to these workers to ensure that they have access to the tools they need to compete in the 21st century global economy.

In the end, that’s what it’s all about: global competition. When I worked in economic development, we had a sign up in the office that said, “We are competing with everyone, everywhere, every day, forever.”  That’s a fact.  Like it or not, we are part of a global economy – and a global competition.    Promoting exports need to be a key part of our strategy for economic growth and job creation.  And so must ensuring that all workers can gain the skills they need to stay ahead of the competition.

Kilmer has represented Washington’s 6th Congressional District sinc 2013. He sits on the Armed Services and the Science, Space and technology committees, and is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of pro-growth Democrats in the House.