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Upskilling and retraining are keys to revitalizing America's workforce

Upskilling and retraining are keys to revitalizing America's workforce
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In the first four months of 2020, the U.S. economy abruptly moved from the tightest job market in 60 years with a record low unemployment rate to the most challenging job market in more than 100 years, with unemployment peaking at almost 15 percent. In the wake of this massive shift, bipartisan legislators introduced the U.S. Upskilling and Retraining Assistance Act to ensure that our country’s workforce would have the resources necessary to move confidently toward greater employability in the future. While job seekers look to return to work, the Act also would make sure that employers would have tools in place to not only hire but also efficiently retain and, in many cases, retrain talent. 

Over the last few months, workers in many different industries were abruptly forced to seek new jobs and careers, many for which new skills are needed. Unfortunately, the current tax code only allows employers to pay up to $5,250 for employees' education programs without it counting towards the workers' taxable income. That level was established more than 30 years ago and is far below the cost of today’s higher education. The Act raises the amount of tax-free educational assistance that employees can receive from $5,250 to $12,000 for the next two years. Further, the Act covers expenses such as tools and technology required to complete key educational and training initiatives.

The Act garnered significant bipartisan momentum and support from the outset. Its potential to unlock possibilities for those seeking employment or better-paying jobs was recognized by several impactful organizations.

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Now, there is an even greater urgency driven by the fact that unemployment remains high. Some positions may never return. Many workers have useful skills but may need guidance and, in some instances, additional education to move forward. We must not let this opportunity, the merit of the Act and its lasting potential pass us by. In both the public and private sectors, leadership should not just reinforce the steady return of our economy amid the COVID-19-driven “new normal,” but also support and raise awareness for legislation such as the U.S. Upskilling and Retraining Assistance Act. This legislation provides ease of workforce re-entry and upward professional mobility through additional education and training for employees at every level.

Access to reduced-tax professional education support resources will further create more equitable upskilling opportunities. The Upskilling and Retraining Assistance Act represents a tremendous opportunity for corporations to improve cross-sector access to necessary educational resources for employees from all walks of life while reducing, or in some cases, forgoing student debt.

For individuals, acquiring transferable skills and education is life-changing and a key to staying relevant in today’s changing workforce. For companies, it’s an opportunity to keep valuable, long-time employees, create a meaningful impact on employees’ lives and support the re-establishment of the surrounding community. 

We have an incredible opportunity to come together for the greater good by supporting the Upskilling and Retraining Assistance Act. Establishing partnerships to offer education support for employees at every stage of their career and creating a learner’s journey that bridges the gap between employers’ needs and employees’ skills has limitless potential in revitalizing our nation’s workforce and society at large.

Vivek Sharma is the CEO of InStride, which provides strategic enterprise education programs, helping corporations achieve business growth and deliver social impact through quality online education for their employees.