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Monroe Evening News: SKILLS Act will help more Americans find jobs

April 10, 2013
Opinion Editorial

Southeastern Michigan is home to talented, hardworking individuals, businesses and community colleges that are committed to helping reinvent the state and its workforce programs.  With so many people passionate about improving the employment situation - and willing to roll-up their sleeves to do it - Michigan and the rest of the country deserves the tools they need to strengthen these vital programs.

After all, the demand is clearly there. In December 2012, employers reported 3.6 million job openings across our country –with over 60,000 middle-to-high skill jobs available in Michigan – despite 12 million Americans looking for employment.  

Unfortunately, our country's current job skills programs are riddled with inefficiency. In 2011, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office identified nearly 30 poorly performing job training programs costing taxpayers about $20 billion a year. On a local level, employers are often left out of decisions to improve workforce training programs due to bureaucratic restrictions on local workforce investment boards (WIBs).

To address these issues, the House recently passed the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act. It combines redundant programs, saves taxpayer dollars, and better equips job-seekers and local workforce development agencies with the tools they need for today's economy.

The SKILLS Act will consolidate or eliminate over 30 proven ineffective job training programs. It replaces the confusing maze of workforce programs with the Workforce Investment fund (WIF), a single source of support for workers and employers. The WIF provides formula funds to state and local WIBs to create universal employment and training programs for all adults. It also specifically targets individuals with unique barriers to finding employment including low-income, at-risk youth, individuals with disabilities and veterans. Taxpayer dollars are protected by requiring an independent evaluation of each training program every five years.

For job seekers the SKILLS Act will eliminate roadblocks that prevent them from more easily accessing job training and makes sure that help from these programs are tailored to their specific needs. By taking away unnecessary steps, like resume training for those that don't need it, we can have more workers quickly preparing for new careers in design manufacturing, engineering, technology, construction and health care, to name a few.  

Local employers will also be empowered by increasing their role in workforce development decisions by requiring two-thirds of state and local WIBs members be employers. Similarly, the SKILLS Act will also help our local and state officials by providing them a greater say in how workforce plans are developed.

This type of oversight has the potential to eliminate barriers that have long discouraged community colleges from fully participating in the past. These institutions can now work with the employer community to help better identify, determine and assist real needs of the local workforce and provide individuals with the tools and training needed to change their lives by teaching in demand skills.

Michigan has already recognized this need and put similar reforms in place. One just has to look at the success of Monroe Community College in addressing this issue.

The SKILLS Act will only further efforts already being taken in Michigan by providing smart, common-sense solutions that will strengthen our workforce and put Michiganders, and Americans, back to work in a healthier economy.