Congress and the President have finally found some common ground: Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed by Congress on July 9 will streamline the federal workforce training system, trimming 15 programs that don't work, giving schools the opportunity to cater their services to the needs of their region, and empowering businesses to identify what skills workers need for success and help workers acquire them.
The bipartisan, bicameral bill is a response to a projection that by 2022, 11 million workers will lack the education necessary to succeed in a 21st century workplace including bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and vocational certificates.
“Workforce training is critically important to help grow the American economy still recovering from recession and bridge the widening skills gap separating thousands of unemployed workers from promising careers in 21st century workplaces,” said Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) when the bill passed.
The Obama Administration apparently agrees. On Tuesday, when Obama signs the bill into law, he and Vice President Joe Biden will also announce new federal and private sector actions to address the need for an improved job training system, which currently serves about 21 million Americans including veterans, Americans with disabilities, the unemployed, and those who lack skills to climb the career ladder. The Obama administration’s new actions also complement the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by improving federal training programs not included in the bill.
Earlier in 2014, President Obama tasked Biden with reviewing the federal training system to find ways to improve it. As a result of that review, Biden will issue a report Tuesday that outlines “job-driven” strategies that the Administration says will make the federal training system “more effective, more responsive to employers, and more accountable for results" in Tuesday's report.
Chief among these strategies is a new “job-driven checklist,” a tool that measures how effective programs are in preparing students for careers that will be incorporated into applications for all 25 federal training grants, at a total of about $1.4 billion, starting Oct. 1. The checklist requires programs to engage with local employers in designing programs that cater to their needs, ramp up opportunities for internships and apprenticeships, and keep better data on employment and earning outcomes.
“From now on, federal agencies will use specific, job-driven criteria to ensure that the $17 billion in federal training funds are used more effectively,” a senior White House official said on a Monday evening press call.
The Obama administration will also expand opportunities for apprenticeships, considered a “proven path to employment and the middle class,” according to a White House statement. After completing these programs, 87% of apprentices gain employment at an average starting salary of $50,000.
In addition to using competitions and grants to bolster job training in the U.S., the administration will also use technology. On Tuesday, Obama and Biden will announce $25 million award from the Department of Labor to develop a web-based “skills academy” for adult learners. And the Department of Education will experiment with education models that award skills based on a person’s tangible skills rather than their performance in a classroom setting.
“Too often job training programs are focused on providing the skills needed for yesterday’s jobs, not the jobs of today and tomorrow,” an administration official said Monday. “And teaching methods are often rooted in outdated, class-based models that haven’t kept pace with technology and new training techniques.”