Opinion | Campaign

We must fund workforce development

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

In the coming days, weeks and months, policymakers in Congress and the White House will make decisions that will impact peoples' lives for years to come. The Biden administration has put forth proposals that would make long-overdue investments in our nation in areas like infrastructure (both physical and care infrastructure), clean energy, advanced manufacturing and education - investments that stand to create millions of good jobs. As lawmakers continue to work toward a bipartisan physical infrastructure bill and reconciliation legislation, it's vital that they prioritize funding for workforce development strategies that will help workers prepare for and access those good jobs.

Without robust investments in workforce development, we risk fueling an already unequal recovery. Analysis from the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce found that in a trillion-dollar infrastructure package, 90 percent of jobs would be created in traditionally male-dominated fields, and a significant share of the jobs created would require at least some training. By creating affordable, accessible pathways to these new jobs, we can ensure those hit hardest by the pandemic, including women, people of color and workers with barriers to employment such as those without a college degree and returning citizens, have a fair shot at obtaining them.

America Achieves, New America, and more than 30 other workforce-related organizations recently released a joint letter calling on Congress to include investments in workforce development as part of upcoming infrastructure and economic recovery legislation. Specifically, in the letter, the organizations called for a $100 billion investment in workforce development, as President Biden proposed earlier this year in his American Jobs Plan. The $100 billion would fund priorities like expanding registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships (particularly for women and people of color), wraparound supports for dislocated workers, sector-based training programs focused on target industries, and job training for justice-involved individuals. Over 100 members of the House of Representatives have released their own Dear Colleague letter requesting at least $100 billion in new spending for workforce development be included in the upcoming reconciliation package.

Workforce funding is critical to making sure that as we invest in infrastructure, clean energy, caregiving and other industries, workers have equitable access to good jobs in those fields. Many employers already play a role in providing extensive training for their incumbent workers and new hires, and have begun to shift to skills-based hiring. But there's more to be done, and some employers - particularly small and mid-sized businesses - may need help partnering with education and training providers and community-based organizations to stand up apprenticeship and other training programs, recruit workers and ensure new hires have skills needed to fill open positions. 

Workforce funding is not a panacea. Investing in workforce development is no substitute for full employment, strong labor rights and protections, equitable distribution of infrastructure funds, skills-based hiring, higher job quality, or full racial justice. Workers should earn living wages and have access to benefits, safe and stable working conditions, the opportunity to join a union, and career advancement opportunities. Surrounding communities should have a say in infrastructure projects, and companies should hire from those communities. But workforce development funding is a key part of this overall effort, and the U.S. invests far less in our workforce development system compared to other OECD countries.

The pandemic exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequities in our labor market. Moving forward, we cannot simply return to a normal that left millions of people out because of their race, ethnicity, gender and zip code. We must finally reckon with these inequities through every dollar we spend and every policy we pass. Upgrading the country's infrastructure - both physical infrastructure and care infrastructure - is a critical step in our economic recovery and an opportunity to expand access to good jobs for all. By investing in workforce development, we can leverage infrastructure investments to support an equitable and inclusive recovery - one in which everyone has access to those good jobs and the chance to succeed.

Kelsey Berkowitz is a senior policy analyst with New America's Center on Education and Labor.

Joanna Mikulski is the executive program director of the Good Jobs Project at America Achieves.

Outbrain