A bill, which is being introduced on the U.S. Senate floor by a legislator from Ohio, is aimed at helping the unemployed receive the training desired by high growth industries.
The Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act attempts to address the disparity between the nation’s high unemployment rate and industry executives struggling to find qualified workers.
“Despite high unemployment, employers are still having a hard time finding workers with the skills necessary to fill the jobs,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said Wednesday in a media teleconference. “Job openings, especially in high growth industries, such as health care and bioscience and some manufacturing, are going unfilled.
“It is clearly about a skills gap,” the legislator said. “It is a gap that denies workers new opportunities and undermines our nation’s economic competitiveness.”
The SECTORS Act, a bipartisan bill, fosters regional partnerships between educators, industry, unions and workforce training boards to develop plans to address the needs of those growing industries in a specified area, Brown explained.
He noted examples of clusters already exist in Ohio in areas of wind and solar energy, biotechnology and aerospace, while California legislators can point to the Silicon Valley, ship building in Maine, insurance in Connecticut, food packaging in Pennsylvania and tourism in central Florida.
He explained workers having been trained through existing partnerships earn 18 percent more in salary, translating to more than $4,500 in a two-year period.
Under the terms of the proposed legislation, eligible entities could apply for a one year planning grant totaling $250,000 and a three-year implementation grant totaling as much as $2.5 million.
“I want to see SECTORS become the way our work force system does business — locally determined and locally decided,” Brown said. “For this reason, I am working on that with Sen. (Tom) Harkin, who is chair of the committee, and Sen. (Patty) Murray, who has played a major role in its development and is sub-committee chair, and others with both parties to ensure that SECTORS partnerships are fully integrated by the states.”
Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network Executive Director Ross Meyer said talking with executives during the recession that they expected to experience difficulty finding qualified laborers.
“When we surveyed employers across industries in our region during the depth of the recession, fully half of all employers expected to face difficulties to find qualified workers for in-demand jobs,” Meyer said. “The bottom line is if we can’t supply skilled and qualified workers for our employers we are not going to be able to climb out of this recession.”
Meyer favors the SECTORS Act because it is employer driven and is a partnership between business, education and the government.
The SECTORS Act is a bipartisan bill, with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, joining Brown in sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, and U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Todd Russell Platts, R-Pa., as chief sponsors in the House of Representatives.
In early June, President Obama announced an expansion of an initiative called “Skills for America’s Future,” in an effort to boost American manufacturing. The initiative closely mirrors the work force training components of the SECTORS Act, initially authored by Brown in 2008.