Strengthened Workforce Training is Great — and We Can Do More

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Jul 23 2014 |

President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) on Tuesday, which seeks to streamline and improve the nation’s workforce training programs. The legislation was a bipartisan bright spot in an otherwise divided Congress, as it passed both the Senate and the House with nearly unanimous approval.

WIOA creates smaller, more strategic state and local workforce development boards, allowing them to tailor programs more effectively in order to meet local needs. It also eliminates 15 ineffective or underutilized programs. As Obama said at the signing:

If you’re working hard, you should be able to get a job. That job should pay well, and you should be able to move forward, look after your family. Opportunity for all, and that means as we are creating new jobs in this new economy, we have to make sure every American has the skills to fill those jobs.

Provisions from five bills from the Senate’s Manufacturing Jobs for America initiative also were included as part of WIOA, including efforts to invest in adult education; efforts to prioritize federal funding for job training programs with “portable, national and industry-recognized credentials;” expanded opportunities for on-the-job training; sector-based partnerships between employers, educators and local Workforce Investment Boards; and partnerships between businesses and community colleges that facilitate job training.

The White House tied the bill signing to the release of its Ready to Work report, an effort led by Vice President Joe Biden that provides a roadmap to “help more Americans in getting and moving up in high-demand jobs and careers.”

At 76 pages long, the Ready to Work report is pretty comprehensive. We applaud the White House for its efforts, and we salute Congress for taking action on workforce training. Demand-driven programs such as the Steelworker for the Future training program have been effective ways to connect workers to good jobs.

But there’s one thing that’s missing in all this talk — we need to make sure the jobs Americans are undergoing training for actually exist. Workforce training is just one part of the picture; the government, in its capacity, should do its part to create demand.

Both the White House and Congress should get to work to rebuild our public infrastructure, which will create millions of new jobs and provide a huge boost to our economy. And policymakers should also make sure America's international trade agreements don't undermine manufacturing jobs here at home. That includes taking steps to prevent our trading partners from manipulating their currencies.

We already know American workers are ready to do their part to do these jobs — now let’s make sure there are jobs for them to do.