Two bills have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this month that address job training and employment services provided through the federal government.
The Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act (H.R. 803), introduced Feb. 21, 2013, is a comprehensive proposal that House Republicans put forth to replace the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA). The WIA established a system of one-stop centers that manage more than 50 programs, spanning nine federal agencies, to give individuals access to job training and employment services. However, the one-stop system, overseen by state-appointed Workforce Investment Boards, has been plagued by inefficiencies. Consequently, the WIA has not been reauthorized since 2003.
Key components of the SKILLS Act are as follows:
Eliminate and streamline 35 ineffective and redundant employment and training programs, and establish a workforce investment fund to serve as a single source of support for employers, workers and job seekers.
Empower state governors to consolidate additional employment and training programs and services at the state level to improve administrative efficiency and further eliminate waste.
Strengthen employers’ role in workforce training decisions by eliminating 19 federal mandates governing workforce investment boards.
Require state and local leaders to use a set of common performance measures for services offered to workers, thereby improving accountability and protecting taxpayer dollars.
Require state and local workforce investment leaders to outline the strategies they will implement to serve at-risk youth, individuals with disabilities, veterans and other workers with unique challenges to employment.
House Democrats introduced their own similar bill, the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (H.R. 798), on Feb. 15 to update the federal job training legislation.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., chairwoman of the House Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee, hosted a hearing Feb. 26 to discuss the SKILLS Act proposal and the need for job training reform.
“The first step toward an effective workforce development system is to rein in the federal bureaucracy,” Foxx said during the hearing. “The SKILLS Act eliminates and streamlines dozens of ineffective and duplicative programs. The bill replaces these programs with a new workforce investment fund, providing states a more efficient resource to deliver the support their workforce needs.”
R. Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System, testified that it is “important that reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act streamlines programs, limits administrative overhead, and enables state and local flexibility to design systems that meet the legislative goals in the most effective and efficient manner. Simplifying the system and moving past the myriad of multiple program titles and funding streams” are fundamental steps.
“While streamlining the federal role is important, we must also empower our job creators, state leaders, and local officials,” noted Foxx. “Doing so means changing the way workforce investment boards operate.”
“Requiring two-thirds of board members to be employers will enhance the shift from a supply-side-designed system to a demand- or market-driven system,” said Todd Gustafson, executive director of Michigan Works—Berrien-Cass-Van Buren. “Eliminating mandates will also help attract higher-caliber local business and community leaders who otherwise feel disempowered and ultimately uninterested among a large unfocused group. Smaller boards are a best practice in both the private, for-profit, and nonprofit sectors and should be applied to the government’s workforce system.”
Chris Hart, president and CEO of Workforce Florida Inc., praised the legislation, commenting that it “is about maintaining our nation’s global economic leadership and accelerating economic progress for Americans by focusing on jobs and a modern talent delivery system that produces skilled and knowledgeable workers. The act equips states to better attract, retain and create jobs by serving three primary customers: businesses, workers and job seekers.”
Both bills have been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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