U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon
U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, voted Friday in favor of H.R. 803, the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act. This legislation passed by a vote of 215-202. The SKILLS Act will empower employers, rein in bureaucracy, and provide America’s workers with a more dynamic, flexible, and effective network of job training services.
In the last 5 years, the United States has experienced devastating unemployment, hovering at or above 8 percent for record breaking months on end. Today, roughly 12 million Americans are unemployed and searching for work, yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports millions of job openings remain unfilled. One reason for this startling fact is a broken workforce development system. Despite a multi-billion dollar annual taxpayer investment in federal job training programs, employers continue to struggle to find workers with skills necessary to fill in-demand jobs. An unwieldy workforce training system is making it more difficult for workers to access important job skills and assistance, and fails employers who seek a highly trained workforce. The SKILLS Act implements reforms and improvements that will streamline our nation’s workforce training system, equipping it for a 21st century economy and job force.
The SKILLS Act is legislation that stems from Congressman McKeon’s original Workforce Investment and Improvement Act (WIIA). As former Chairman and current Senior Member of the Education and Workforce Committee, Congressman McKeon has been a pioneer in crafting legislation that improves and streamlines the workforce training system and equips our nation’s workers and job seekers with the training and resources needed to compete and thrive in today’s job market. Congressman McKeon has authored and introduced WIA legislation in past Congresses and has worked to garner bi-partisan support for the principles of this legislation.
“Solving our country’s unemployment crisis and getting Americans working again requires real solutions and I am committed to legislating commonsense and realistic solutions to our nation’s job crisis,” said Congressman McKeon. “American workers looking to sharpen their skills and keep up with the changing economy don’t see this legislation as a partisan, political issue. They see it as an opportunity to protect their livelihoods and provide a better life for themselves and their families.
“While I vigorously support the main principles of this bill, I am concerned about some technical funding aspects in the legislation. Funding for some programs subsidized under the SKILLS Act have been consolidated. One of these programs is YouthBuild. The Antelope Valley YouthBuild center is molding teens and young adults into model citizens. The staff works with youth ages 16 – 24 to help them build the confidence and skills needed to thrive in their communities. Participants work toward acquiring marketable skills to launch them into their careers while ensuring they complete their high school education. Participants give back to their community by building affordable housing in the Antelope Valley. I do not want the rug to be pulled out from under them by consolidating this program. Here in the 25th District, this program has a significant impact to many lives and the community at large. Not all programs are best run from Washington. Bureaucrats often don’t understand what local communities need and how they operate, so operating every program at the national level is bad policy. But some programs deserve a second look and I believe YouthBuild is one of those programs.
“While I support the overall bill on the floor today and look forward to an eventual reauthorization of WIA, I am concerned about the fate of YouthBuild. Let there be no doubt that with the GAO findings on our workforce training system there needed to be some consolidation, but not all programs are created equal. Some work better than others. Some work well in some districts while not so well in others. I would urge Chairman Kline and Subcommittee Chairman Foxx to reconsider consolidation of YouthBuild if this legislation gets to a conference committee.
“While not perfect, this bill strengthens job training opportunities for workers and job seekers and builds on reforms to improve programs and services to put Americans back to work, all while maintaining our commitment to responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars. I am hopeful that we can work towards a bipartisan agreement in a future conference committee and pass this legislation into law.”
As our nation continues to struggle with high unemployment and unsustainable debt, streamlining ineffective programs and promoting better use of taxpayer dollars is critical. The SKILLS Act includes the following highlights:
* Streamlines Federal Workforce Development Programs. The SKILLS Act eliminates and streamlines 35 ineffective and duplicative programs, including 26 identified in a 2011 report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. Additionally, the proposal creates a Workforce Investment Fund to serve as a single source of support for employers, workers, and job seekers. States are required to reserve a certain percentage of funds to specifically target individuals with unique barriers to finding employment, including at-risk youth.
* Strengthens a Dynamic, Employer-Driven Job Training System. The SKILLS Act reinforces the role of America’s job creators in our workforce investment system by ensuring two-thirds of state and local Workforce Investment Board members are employers.
* Expands Decision Making at the Local Level. The SKILLS Act eliminates 19 federal mandates regarding local workforce board representation and empowers locally elected officials to determine the remaining board members. Similar requirements are lifted for state workforce boards, as well. This will help ensure workforce investment boards better reflect the needs and priorities of local communities. The local workforce boards will regularly conduct analyses of area workforce needs, including economic conditions, the knowledge and skills of workers, and existing workforce development activities to enhance support services for local workers and employers.
* Improves Accountability and Transparency. The SKILLS Act requires state and local leaders to adhere to “common performance measures” for all workforce development services to help eliminate waste and ensure taxpayer dollars are used effectively. The bill also requires an independent evaluation of training programs every five years.
* Creates a Seamless Workforce Development System. The SKILLS Act strengthens the authority of governors, in consultation with local officials, to designate the location of workforce areas in their states, which will help ensure resources and support services are more readily available to workers and employers and the system is aligned to regional economic and labor markets.
* Empowers Governors to Further Reduce Administrative Burdens. The SKILLS Act allows states to continue submitting a unified statewide workforce development plan to the federal government for all employment and training services and related programs. The bill also allows governors to consolidate additional programs into their state Workforce Investment Fund for the express purpose of providing greater administrative flexibility and reducing overly burdensome paperwork requirements. If a state decides to consolidate additional programs, it will still be responsible for meeting the goals and requirements of the programs.
* Facilitates Greater Collaboration with Community Colleges. The SKILLS Act allows states to determine the standards required for eligible training providers, simplifying the bureaucratic requirements that have forced many community colleges and other providers out of the system. It also allows local boards to contract with community colleges directly to provide training to large groups of participants instead of on an individual basis.
* Encourages More Training to Meet In-Demand Job Opportunities. The SKILLS Act eliminates arbitrary provisions under current law that prevent individuals from accessing training immediately by streamlining the delivery of services to help individuals receive the support that best meets their needs. The proposal also requires local boards to designate a portion of resources to spend directly on training. Finally, the bill requires service providers to contribute a portion of their resources to support the infrastructure of the One-Stop Career Centers, providing more resources to training and other efforts that directly serve workers.
* Reforms the Job Corps Program. The SKILLS Act reforms Job Corps to ensure that career and technical education and training is geared toward in-demand occupations and that disadvantaged youth receive a regular high school diploma and/or a recognized postsecondary credential that prepares them for employment in the global economy. It establishes a new performance accountability and management system and requires all grantees to re-compete for funding. These reforms will help ensure grantees are high-quality and have expertise in serving disadvantaged youth. These changes will also help at-risk youth become more employable, responsible, and productive citizens.
* Improves Adult Education and Vocational Rehabilitation. The SKILLS Act also amends the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The bill increases the focus on delivery of basic literacy and math skills, and works to build this instruction into employment activities. The legislation also focuses on helping individuals with disabilities transition into employment. Both programs are required to meet the common performance measures outlined in the bill.