Senator pushes bill for worker training

If a bipartisan bill passes, one of the co-sponsors says he believes the legislation will connect employers with the workers they need and workers with the training they need to secure a better employment future.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, of Ohio, discussed Wednesday the benefits “The Careers through Responsive, Efficient, and Effective Retraining Act” would have on job seekers and employers. The CAREER Act is legislation he co-sponsored with Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett, of Colorado.

Portman, who attended a summit in Columbus two weeks ago, said worker retraining and The CAREER Act were discussed as they learned Ohio businesses have 100,000 available jobs and there are 400,000 people looking for work. In the United States, there are 20 million Americans looking for work and employers are having difficulty filling 3.7 million positions.

“There is an obvious gap there and some of that is a skills gap,” Portman said during a media teleconference. “We need to do a better job with our federal worker retraining dollars. We can do a much better job ensuring that the money is actually going to retraining, that it is focused on skills that are needed, that these programs are subject to accountability and oversight, that there are performance measures and we can do a better job of consolidating and streamlining those efforts.”

He explained the federal government has 47 work force development programs in nine different departments and agencies. A 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showed that 44 of the 47 different federal employment and training programs “overlap with at least one other program” and that nine different federal departments and agencies administer the programs.

He also noted the 2011 report discovered that only five of the 47 programs had conducted any studies to determine their effectiveness since 2004.

“There is a great opportunity here to help deal with this skills gap, especially here in Ohio,” Portman said. “Seventy-four percent of manufacturers, according to a White House report, are experiencing work force shortages or skills deficiencies and that is exactly what this bill is intended to address.”

Portman explained The CAREER Act would attack the issue on four different fronts.

The bill would reorganize the federal government’s programs to make them more efficient.

According to a news release, this provision would require the president to report to Congress within 12 months of enactment “a plan to increase efficiency among the federal training programs by decreasing the number of federal job training programs without decreasing services or accessibility to services by eligible training participants.”

The legislation also would give community colleges, career tech institutions and other key educators priority access to dollars for training that equips workers with the credentials and other skills that are in-demand by industry.

This provision would require the states and local work force areas to give priority consideration to training programs that equip workers with credentials that are in-demand by industry, relevant regionally and recognized on a national scale.

Portman stressed the need to introduce much needed accountability to job training by rewarding results and penalizing complacency, while providing states and local stakeholders with access to the data they need to track the impact of their programs.

This provision establishes a pilot program that gives states flexibility to use up to 25 percent of their WIA formula funds on training that is accountable and performance-based.

The last provision authorizes state work force agencies to have access to the National Directory of New Hires — an existing database — to track job training outcomes across state lines.