Sector partnerships key to good jobs, growing economy

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told an audience at a recent forum hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that there should be an emphasis in educating not just traditional students but working adults looking for a new degree or job retraining (“Rubio calls for education reforms to focus on closing ‘skills gap,’ ” Jan. 23). He also mentioned connecting business leaders with local colleges to educate those workers with the skills those businesses need. 

Given the skills gap facing this country, it was heartening to hear support for programs that invest in our workers. Despite the unemployment rate still remaining around 8 percent, there are more than 3.5 million jobs that haven’t been filled in part because employers can’t find workers with the right skills. In fact, a recent survey found that 52 percent of U.S. employers struggled to fill critical positions in 2011, up from just 14 percent in 2010.

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And the problem will only get worse. Over the next decade, nearly half of all job openings will be middle-skill jobs — jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but not necessarily a four-year degree — yet this is where the skills gap is the most pronounced. 

How do we fix this growing problem? Rubio is on the right track — part of the solution is to invest in sector partnerships. Sector partnerships are employer-led organizations that bring together multiple firms in an industry with local education and training providers, as well as key partners such as organized labor and community organizations, to help workers obtain the skills identified by employers as critical for the jobs openings they have today and in the future. 

These partnerships are good for rebuilding our economy and growing the middle class. Businesses that get workers with the skills they need experience less employee turnover. Studies have shown that workers completing sector-focused training programs are more likely to find employment and earn significantly more. 

It’s important to note that closing the skills gap will not by itself solve our unemployment problem, but it moves us in the right direction. Investing in sector-focused training and education will get more people back to work, grow industries and help ensure long-term economic health. 

Currently, there is no dedicated federal support for these strategies. In July 2010, the House of Representatives passed — with bipartisan, unanimous support — the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (Sectors) Act, which would dedicate federal funding to the creation of sector partnerships. But this bipartisan proposal has not moved forward. With the economy still recovering and the current budget debates, Congress should invest in sector partnerships because they are effective in getting workers back on the job.

The National Skills Coalition thanks Rubio for voicing support for educating and training our workers and connecting that training with the needs of businesses. We look forward to working with him and Congress to close America’s skills gap and support programs that get Americans back to work, support our industries and grow our economy.

From Andy Van Kleunen, executive director of the National Skills Coalition, Washington, D.C.


Mining industry has the tools to deal with safety

As the National Mining Association’s safety officer, I want to clarify a point in The Hill’s story last week on the NMA’s policy outlook for mine safety in 2013 (“Mining trade group touts lawmaker support on permits, EPA rules,” Jan. 28).

I noted in the article that although we cannot predict what the Congress will or will not ultimately do, we do not believe that more legislation is necessary or warranted. As we’ve stated in testimony, the Mine Safety and Health Administration already has the tools needed to deal with safety issues that concern the agency and is using those tools today — from citations and enhanced inspections to new standards for suspending the operations of repeat offenders. 

A far better approach than simply creating more regulation is NMA’s CORESafety program, a new systems approach to manage safety and health that is actively being implemented by our industry. It is the first safety and health management system designed specifically for U.S. mining by mine safety and health professionals. We are committed to the goal that NMA’s Board of Directors endorsed last March to reach zero fatalities and a 50 percent reduction of the injury rate in five years. The CORESafety initiative is strong evidence of that commitment.

From Bruce Watzman, senior vice president for Regulatory Affairs, National Mining Association, Washington, D.C.


Forget about the ‘cliff,’ pass the Fair Tax Act

Congress claims it has to avoid going “over the cliff” financially while it continues to kick the can down the road. What a joke.

The income tax is an abysmal failure. It is unfair, and the only ones who benefit from it are lobbyists and congressmen. The Fair Tax Act will replace the income tax with a fair consumption tax by eliminating the IRS. 

All tax measures must originate in the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill has been shelved there for more than five years without a vote. It is time to pressure our representatives to do the right thing and move this bill out of committee and onto the floor of the House for a vote.

From Roy T. Newsom, Granbury, Texas