Barriers to getting Americans back to work

To train more Americans with the skills employers need and to match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now, we must replicate regional beacons of success, moving beyond single case partnerships to industry-wide, systemic change.

Right now, it seems two challenges exist. The third section of this post talks about how these challenges may be overcome. A recurring theme in all my research seems to be around apprenticeships. It pops up almost everywhere.

Communities don’t have enough access to information and guidance

We are now armed with good information about what works and an increasing number of regions that are ready and willing to replicate and tailor these approaches to their local economies. But a dearth of investment in labor market information; technical assistance; and coordination among education, workforce, and economic development agencies limits the ability of regions to change their systems so that small businesses who employ most workers can leverage an infrastructure they don’t have the capacity to build themselves.

Doing a better job of supporting regions with ongoing streams of up-to-date, granular information on job and skill demand locally will give them the flexibility to undertake innovative, integrated approaches and achieve better results, and providing additional funding to replicate and scale proven approaches.

There simply aren’t enough resources for individuals to get the career guidance that would lead them to these programs or the training even once local employers have come together and created programs that work.

Each year millions of workers are displaced from their jobs. Many workers would benefit from reemployment and training services to help them get back to work, but DOL has less funds for displaced workers today than it did 20 years ago, when the unemployment rate was lower than 4 percent.

Due to budget constraints, 15 percent of participants in the largest federal training program for dislocated workers receive training.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act has authorized an increase in annual funding levels for DOL’s WIA Youth, Adult and Dislocated Worker programs. If appropriated by Congress, these funds would allow broader access to job-driven training locally. For the lucky few, access to these resources can be life changing.

The Community College Job-Driven Training Fund would provide $6 billion in funding over four years, increasing our current training investments significantly.

This proposal would offer competitive grants to partnerships of community colleges and other public or non-profit training entities with industry and employers, to reform curricula and launch new training programs to deliver skills for in-demand jobs.

Investments would focus in part on providing funding for industry-education partnerships to codevelop and disseminate common credentials and skills assessments, making it easier for workers to invest in training that will get them a job and start them on a career. $2 billion would be devoted to support President Obama’s call to Congress to double the number of apprentices in America over five years.

These funds would provide flexible support for comprehensive state strategies to expand apprenticeships and for innovative partnerships among employers, labor unions, training providers, and local workforce leaders. It would help align apprenticeship programs with community colleges and high schools, strengthen on-ramps and pathways into apprenticeship, and better market apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are here to stay, finally

With only 375,000 apprenticeships today – one sixth as many as Britain on a per capita basis – many more Americans could benefit from this path to skilled, well-paying work. Making these investments would increase the capacity of local communities to develop solutions that work for local employers, meet the needs of job seekers in the region, and provide funding to help put people through newly-created or expanded programs. They would increase the number of people with access to job-driven solutions and should be priorities across political lines.

It seems clear that these challenges and solutions will continue to look toward working with Congress to increase resources for these important objectives. In the meantime, we will continue to work to ensure that our current investments in employment and training are going toward job-driven approaches and mobilizing partnerships to increase the pool of resources available.