The Importance of a Federally-funded Job Training System

Workforce development programs – whether the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, the Job Training Partnership Act, the Workforce Investment Act or the current Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act – have a long history in this nation, and have always had bipartisan support.

The problem is that at a time of very low unemployment, the need for an effective and well-funded federal job training system may be greatest.  

More recently, however, budget constraints at the federal level have kept funding for workforce development programs well below what most job training experts believe is necessary, and historically low unemployment rates have been used as an excuse to recommend that workforce development funding be cut each fiscal year.

The problem is that at a time of very low unemployment, the need for an effective and well-funded federal job training system may be greatest.  

Here’s why.  

First, the federal government is the most effective distributor of funding for programs like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Every state and every workforce development area is assured of receiving funds that reflect the numbers of unemployed adults, dislocated workers, and youth in need of job training assistance. Left to be funded by the states or localities, there is a significant chance that the funding of these programs will be less likely, and even if states choose to fund the program, the funding will prove irregular at best with some states making substantial investments while others may make no investments at all.

Second, while unemployment is at record lows, underemployment is at record highs:

  • Approximately 21 million or 14 percent of all working Americans are at a job for which they are overqualified.
  • An estimated 4.5 million or three percent of all Americans are working part-time but would prefer to work full-time.
  • Eighteen million, or 12 percent, of all Americans are working two or more jobs in order to make ends meet.

Third, the workplace and the nature of work are evolving rapidly. In the last few years we have seen a substantial increase in the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous systems.  More progress has been made in the past five to eight years than in all the previous 50 years and the changes that are occurring today are very different than the automation cycles that occurred in the 1950s, 1980s, and 1990s. During those cycles the perception was that we were automating mechanical, clerical and routine work, and that automation in those cycles was designed to help workers be more productive and to reduce some of the hard physical labor often required in manufacturing, construction and related types of jobs.

The fact is that our nation suffers from a skills shortage.

Today, however, the machines we are building seem capable of doing wholly new things. They appear to have their own cognitive and knowledge skills, and are capable of machine learning.

The fact is that our nation suffers from a skills shortage. Yes, we have more college graduates than ever. Yes, we have more community college graduates than ever. But all too often, key industries in our country are unable to find enough sufficiently trained workers to perform the jobs they have because there is a mismatch between the skills workers have and the skills employers need. And this gap is likely to grow over time unless we make the right kinds of investments in workforce training that address the problem.

According to the National Skills Coalition, we can close this gap by “adopting policies that support sector partnerships and career pathways, and by making job-driven investments [and using] data to better align workforce and education investments with employer skill needs.”

To that end, a workforce development system that is funded at the federal level to meet these needs can help address this ongoing problem, and ultimately remedy it.  

Next week:  Why a Regional Job Training System Makes the Most Sense

Neil Bomberg

About the Author

Neil Bomberg
I am a highly experienced public sector lobbyist committed to ensuring that the issues important to regions and the local governments they represent are heard in Congress and the Administration. My issue areas include: budget and appropriations, human services, health care, workforce development, and economic and community development. I worked as a lobbyist at the National Association of Counties and National League of Cities for more than 26 years where I focused on labor and employment, and human development, respectively.

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