Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=135895
Story Retrieval Date: 5/24/2013 11:33:50 PM CST
WASHINGTON—Worker training programs for low-wage and illiterate workers are helping the unemployed survive the economy, but the programs need more funding and less red tape, state agency leaders and program heads told a Senate panel Thursday.
“We need to do a better job of matching up the skills of our workers with the needs of our industries,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the subcommittee chair.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee hearing focused on local-based solutions to improving the Workforce Investment Act, which is up for renewal. The original bill, passed in 1998 and signed by former President Bill Clinton, was designed to train underemployed, low-wage and illiterate workers and move them into higher-paying jobs.
Witnesses warned that although their programs are re-training workers displaced by the recession, a lack of funding and an abundance of red tape from federal agencies is burdening staff and turning away eligible clients.
Martha Kanter, undersecretary of Education, and Jane Oates, assistant secretary of Labor, told the subcommittee their agencies were trying to reduce the burdenassociated with reporting data and enlisting new clients.
The problem, they said, is that there’s too much paperwork required from both potential students and the agencies requesting funding.
Mary Sarris, who leads a job training coalition in Salem, Mass., said the process is “too onerous” for many eligible youths.
She and other witnesses said the solution is local cooperation from business leaders, government services and community organizations, much like the workforce investment boards created in the original act.
The head of Georgia’s Department of Labor said local flexibility led to innovative solutions in his state, too. Commissioner Michael Thurmond said the state’s “one-stop shop” unemployment offices are focused on “vocational rehabilitation” for unemployed workers.
There was also some indication that a modified version of the act could align with President Barack Obama’s call for additional funding for community colleges, which Kanter said can offer a variety of programs to retrain older workers and give high school students a head start on their educations.
She said such “advanced training” would be more than school, providing technical training, apprenticeships and dual-enrollment high school classes.
But job training programs must also attract illiterate workers and remedial students or else, “they’re going to lose their taste” for training, Oates said.
Experts from Washington state said its program is producing results, but needs more funding. “We ask you not to starve the solution,” said Kathy Cooper, from the state’s Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “We know what works best.”
Witnesses also said a revised act must promote youth initiatives, offering summer jobs, academic credits and other community partnerships to train students before they leave high school.
At the same time the subcommittee was meeting, two House members introduced a new bill to strengthen those adult education and workforce training initiatives. The bill, proposed by Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and Daniel Hinojosa, D-Texas., provides some of the same incentives discussed during the hearing. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who attended today’s hearing, and Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., are expected to release a similar bill soon.