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It's time for Trump to walk the walk on workforce training
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate there are 1 million more job openings in this country than there are available unemployed workers.
Part of that gap stems from companies struggling to find trained workers to fill skilled positions - a challenge communicated directly to President Trump by business leaders last week at the inaugural meeting of the White House's new American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.
This skilled workforce challenge is not a new realization for the Trump presidency. To the president's credit, his administration has promoted, since its inception, the need for more attention to workforce training and technical education.
But after over two years into his presidency, we would have expected to see more tangible progress on this front. The appointment of this new workforce policy board is an opportunity to turn that track record around.
Most confusing to date has been the repeated call in past Trump budgets for drastic cuts to the very workforce, technical education and human services programs that officials like special advisor Ivanka Trump often praise out in the field.
The president likewise called for the expansion of apprenticeship dating back to an executive order issued in June 2017. Yet that effort has been slow to roll out, including a Department of Labor outlay of only a portion of the nearly $300 million that Congress has appropriated for apprenticeship over the past two years.
Addressing these public investment issues needs to be a top priority for the Trump administration if it is to achieve its purported workforce goals. Beyond that, special advisor Trump outlined to the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board four additional challenges:
- promoting multiple pathways to good-paying jobs;
- improving data to better inform students and educators and match workers to jobs;
- modernizing candidate recruitment and training practices to expand the pool of job applicants employers can hire; and
- encouraging employer-led training and investments.
These are all laudable goals. Here are some ideas for what the White House could do right now in partnership with Congress to address them.
The White House could create new pathways to success for hundreds of thousands of workers currently excluded from college study by supporting the bipartisan JOBS Act, which would expand Pell grants to high-quality, short-term programs that lead to in-demand credentials.
Even better, Trump could provide additional Pell grant resources in his budget to support such an effort. As Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the two co-sponsors of the legislation, stated in a recent New York Times letter to the editor:
"Americans feel alienated by a federal higher education policy that communicates one thing: If you aspire to anything but a four-year degree, we will not support you."
Passing that legislation is a necessary step toward ending the policy bias in our higher education policies against working people.
Special advisor Trump is wrong to say we don't have data on the outcomes of workforce and education programs. We just have not made it easy to bring together the data already held by state and federal agencies across these programs to help people make informed decisions.
The administration could take a step in that direction by rallying behind another bipartisan bill - the College Transparency Act - so that students, parents, colleges, employers, policymakers and the public can easily see which college programs help students earn quality credentials and good-paying jobs.
The White House could also recommit to funding state data collection through efforts like the Workforce Data Quality Initiative.
Expanding the pool of trained job applicants will require a vast number of solutions. But a very clear step in the wrong direction has been the administration's efforts to flood the labor market with untrained, low-income individuals.
Another misstep has been cutting off those who are already working at low wages and training part-time with new "work requirements" under our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs.
In a tight labor market, these are the very people we should be investing in to fill available jobs - a point recognized by experts out in the states. Work requirements just don't work.
Finally, if we're going to further encourage employer-led investments in worker training, we need to pay attention to who is currently being left out of that equation. Kudos to the companies that have pledged to the White House their intentions to train nearly 7 million workers to meet changing job requirements.
Unfortunately, in an economy in which over 60 percent of existing workers - more than 90 million people - are going to see significant changes to their jobs due to technology, we're going to need a much more robust government investment.
And when 85 percent of employer investments in training are focused on the small number of workers already holding a bachelor's degree, we need to think about how to diversify that private investment portfolio as well.
Proposals like an expansion of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to prioritize employer-funded training of low-skill, low-wage workers would be a right first step.
Andy Van Kleunen is the CEO of National Skills Coalition.