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Analysis: Third stimulus package lacks comprehensive strategy to respond to urgent workforce needs today

On March 26th the Senate voted on a third stimulus package to address the current CoVid-19 pandemic and its economic impact.

The bill included important provisions for workers who have lost their jobs – federal support for expanded “Pandemic unemployment insurance” that would add an extra $600 a week to unemployment insurance payments and $345 million in national grants to support activities to serve dislocated workers. It also included access to loans for businesses – and nonprofits – to cover payroll costs during the economic downturn and federal support for layoff aversion strategies like job sharing.

It lacked, however, the vision of a comprehensive national strategy to support workers’ ability to reenter the workforce after job loss. The bill also doesn’t do enough to empower businesses to rapidly upskill and reskill workers to respond to immediate workforce needs in healthcare, manufacturing or transportation, distribution, and logistics industries.

Bipartisan agreement on a nearly $2 trillion package to support workers and businesses is an undeniable win in time of national and international crisis. This crisis has stress-tested our unemployment, workforce, and education systems, however, and the package fails to address the woefully inadequate investment and support we provide workers once they lose their jobs and on their path to reemployment in industries in which businesses need workers today.

This package is the third in a series of stimulus packages over the past couple of weeks. Earlier versions provided federal support for extended Unemployment Insurance benefits, paid sick leave for workers, and waived time restrictions on access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for certain individuals.

As we look to an undeniably necessary fourth stimulus package, Congress and the administration should use that opportunity to reach bipartisan agreement on a bill that supports a national system with training, income, and healthcare supports for workers who lose their jobs. The next package must also address industry’s immediate needs so that our businesses, workers, and communities aren’t left waiting for a Congressional response that may be too little too late.

On March 19th, National Skills Coalition sent a letter to Congressional leadership with comprehensive recommendations for any stimulus package that would address needs of workers, businesses, and communities. On March 21, NSC along with more than 30 other national organizations sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for vital investments in workforce programming as part of any response to CoVid-19 and its economic impacts. We look forward to continuing this work with our network of practitioners and businesses and with national partners to elevate the critical role workforce training plays in preparing workers with skills necessary to respond to the immediate crisis and its economic impact. 

We will release additional analysis in the coming days of where policymakers should look to rectify these challenges as part of a fourth stimulus package.

What’s included in the third stimulus package

1. Supplemental appropriations for Dislocated Worker National Reserve (DWNR) Funds: The bill includes $345 million in new funding for the DWNR; national grants to support training and career services for workers who have lost their jobs due to CoVid-19. This investment will be critical to states’ ability to serve dislocated workers but is woefully inadequate to respond to the actual level of needs businesses and workers face today.

In the 2009 stimulus package, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), Congress invested $1.25 billion in formula dollars to states to support dislocated worker activities, combined with an additional nearly $3 billion in other workforce funding streams. During that economic downturn, the workforce system experienced a 234 percent increase in the number of Americans seeking reemployment and training services and the system served more than 8 million people in 2009.

The public workforce system is poised today to address challenges faced by workers who are dislocated as a result of COVID-19 and need rapid retraining to enter in-demand jobs, like those in healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing.  But the system needs adequate investment to respond to the scale of need it is already facing.

2.  Reauthorization of the TANF block grant and targeted funds for training TANF-eligible workers for healthcare careers: The bill includes a clean extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant through November 30, 2020. It also includes an extention of the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) until November 30, 2020, allowing grantees a longer time period to spend existing dollars. HPOG grants go to partnerships between healthcare providers and workforce and education providers to empower TANF-eligible workers to access training for healthcare careers and to fund support services – like access to childcare and transportation – that ensure workers with the greatest skills needs can succeed in this training. Current HPOG grantees are set to finish out their grant cycle this year and the House has introduced a reauthorization bill to expand HPOG grants, and significantly increase funding for these grants, in what would be the third round of the program. 

3. Layoff aversion strategies for small businesses and nonprofits: The bill includes access to up to $10 million in loans to businesses and nonprofits, including veterans’ organizations, to support payroll, insurance premiums, rent, and other costs incurred during the crisis. The bill also includes access to loan forgiveness provisions, tied to organizations maintaining employment levels and not laying off employees.

It provides federal support for Short-Time compensation (STC) – programs that enable workers to access a portion of their UI benefits when companies reduce their hours by 20%, enabling businesses to avert layoffs and reduce public UI costs. For states that already support STC, the bill would contribute 100% of cost of new claims. For states setting up new STC systems, federal funding would support both set up costs and 50% of claims.

The inclusion of nonprofit organizations in the loans provision is critical to workforce providers’ and human service organizations capacity to continue to serve clients during this time of crisis. For many local practitioners, the forced move to remote services means they’re helping clients in new ways – often without access to national or state grant funding to provide services like trying to access unemployment claims or meet work requirements associated with SNAP or Temporary Assistance for Need Families benefits.

These loans will be critical to enabling a robust network of training and human service organizations persist during the crisis, but it will be vital that nonprofits are able to access loan funds and are not penalized as being risky loan recipients based on low capital resources or other standards.

4. Resources for postsecondary institutions and the students they serve: Thousands of postsecondary institutions have had to close their doors to keep educators, students, and others safe during this pandemic. However, the needs of these institutions and students have not dissipated—rather, they have increased. As a result, the bill looks to provide emergency grant funding to both graduate and undergraduate students by expanding the Supplemental Economic Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program. SEOG grants aim to provide students with the most financial need with funding to offset the overall cost of their education. These expanded grants are meant to help students cover any unforeseen costs associated with COVID-19.

The bill also equips institutions to provide students enrolled in the Federal Work Study (FWS) program with the payments they anticipated receiving in exchange for their FWS service for the duration of the academic year. Additionally, if a student is unable to finish their coursework due to COVID-19 related issues, any Pell grants they used to cover the cost of enrollment will not count against their lifetime Pell eligibility.

In terms of direct support for postsecondary institutions, the bill provides $14.25 billion in funding to institutions of higher education to support students facing urgent needs related to coronavirus, and to support institutions as they cope with the immediate effects of coronavirus and school closures. This provides targeted formula funding to institutions of higher education, as well as funding for minority serving institutions and HBCUs.

5. Increased funding for supportive services, including childcare, housing and mental health services to states: The importance of supportive services for students, workers, and families cannot be overstated—particularly during times of crisis. Countless individuals across the U.S. have had to leave their jobs, drastically reduce their hours, adjust to remote work or schooling, or work overtime depending on their circumstances.

In recognition of this, the bill provides $3.5 billion in Child Care and Development Block Grants (CCDBG)  to states for immediate assistance to child care providers to prevent them from going out of business and also to support child care for families, including healthcare workers, first responders, and others playing critical roles during this crisis.

The bill also provides $425 million in funding to address mental health and substance use disorders as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It makes housing resources available under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for elderly, disabled, veteran, homeless, and low-income populations are funded at $17.4 billion.

 

Posted In: Federal Funding

Responding to the crisis before us

  ·   By Rachel Unruh & Katie Spiker
Responding to the crisis before us

Update March 26: On March 19, National Skills Coalition sent a letter  to Congressional leadership detailing these comprehensive recommendations that would address needs of workers, businesses, and communities. On March 21, NSC along with more than 30 other national organizations, sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling for vital investments in workforce programming as part of any response to CoVid-19 and its economic impacts. For more on our analysis of the federal response to CoVid-19 and its economic impacts, see our blog here.

March 18 – The financial, emotional, and physical toll that the COVID-19 health pandemic has put on our country can’t be overstated. This is a time for federal policymakers to come together – using every policy lever possible, every public resource available – to do everything we can to immediately protect and support workers and small businesses. Based on principles informed by our networks, National Skills Coalition has developed the following policy goals for an immediate stimulus package to assist workers who need income, healthcare, and housing today and to shore up small and mid-sized businesses trying to keep their doors open. You can read the full reccomendations sent to Capitol Hill here. We know there are people who will suffer the impacts of this crisis more acutely and in inequitable ways and we are working with our network to develop policy solutions that could be in subsequent stimulus efforts over the next couple months.  

Working with our networks, National Skills Coalition will release more detailed recommendations under these goals in the coming weeks. To stay informed about these recommendations, how we’re working with Congress to advance them, and how any passed legislation will impact your local community, please sign up for our email list. 

Immediate Responses for a National Stimulus 

Remove all barriers to our nation’s safety net: Immediately remove barriers to the existing federal safety net including health, food, housing, and cash assistance. 

Congress is currently considering suspension of a rule that will make it harder for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Congress should suspend all work-related restrictions for all safety net programs and give recipients significantly more time to get back into family supporting jobs. 

Provide comprehensive income, healthcare, and re-training support to all displaced workers: Guarantee access to income replacement, healthcare, and re-training for any displaced worker, including contingent workers. 

America’s existing Trade Adjustment Assistance program provides these robust, comprehensive benefits, but it is only available to workers displaced by trade. This level of benefits must be expanded to all forms of economic displacement, including pandemics, and all types of workers including contingent workers. Universal, expanded access to supports necessary to help effectively and efficiently connect dislocated workers to good jobs would be a more targeted and more comprehensive solution than current Universal Basic Income proposals which only provide income replacement. 

Help small and mid-sized business avert layoffs: Help businesses keep their employees while they are paid and re-trained during and in the aftermath of COVID-19, including for jobs that are themselves rapidly changing with new technology. 

Current tax policydoes not empower businesses to invest reskilling workers, particularly those with the greatest skill needs. Congressional changes to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit could provide targeted tax credits that support investments in retraining and will be a more effective way to support retraining and retention of workers than payroll tax incentives to all businesses. 

Additional Short-Term Responses for Subsequent Stimulus Efforts 

Address immediate shortages in industries needed to respond to crisis: Industries like healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing are essential to responding to COVID-19 and are already facing severe shortages of trained workers. Congress can tee up Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) as quickly as possible to get as much money on the ground as possible to train displaced workers for these jobs and to ensure capacity is in place when community colleges and training providers re-open physical classrooms.  

Update education and training policies to respond to marketplace disruption: Update our higher education policies to support the infrastructure and flexibility required for short-term digital learning to get displaced workers retrained quickly. This effort will help shore up the country for future disruptions whether they are health, environmental, trade, or technology related. This will also require a national effort to address the disproportionately low digital literacy skills among workers in industries like food service and retail that will be most impacted by job loss due to COVID-19. 

Create jobsThere is strong bi-partisan support for a major effort to re-build our nation’s infrastructure, which could create millions of jobs that will be needed even more coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. NSC is leading efforts to develop a workforce training and re-employment title within anticipated federal infrastructure proposals. We want to ensure that any infrastructure package includes comprehensive training and support services with a focus on those who have been disproportionately impacted by racial inequities in education and labor policy.  

Posted In: Trade Adjustment Assistance, Federal Funding, Higher Education Access
Skills mismatch: Lack of access to skills training hurts workers and businesses

National Skills Coalition’s newly updated fact sheets demonstrate the national and state demand for skills training and skilled workers to fill the in-demand jobs that define and support the American economy.

Every day, in communities across our nation, workers seek out opportunities to ensure their families can thrive. At the same time, businesses are anxious to hire skilled workers—people trained for jobs in growing industries like healthcare, medical technology, IT and software, and advanced manufacturing—as well as tradespeople like plumbers and electricians.

These jobs [1], which require education and training that falls between a high school diploma and a four-year degree, are the backbone of the American economy and they depend on a skilled workforce ready to fill them.

For many workers and families, skills training (including on-the-job training, apprenticeships, or two-year degrees) is a ticket into the middle class. And for employers, skills training is a valuable investment in their workforce, business productivity, and long-term success.

But too few people have access to the skills training and education needed to fill the jobs that power our economy. (See chart.) The mismatch between the skills workers have and the skills that in-demand jobs require leaves opportunity on the table. Skills training is the key to filling in-demand jobs—yet without access to skills training and education, workers are locked out of opportunities to succeed.

America’s workforce is its premier economic asset. Unlocking workers’ access to skills training prioritizes what workers and businesses need to fill in-demand jobs in a 21st century economy.

States can respond to this skills mismatch by adopting policies to expand equitable access to skills training, credentials and in-demand careers—particularly for communities who face structural or systemic barriers to participation, like low-income populations, people of color, and immigrants.

Individual employers can similarly invest in their incumbent workforce through in-house or external skills training opportunities facilitated by trusted partners like community colleges and local training providers.

Find out more and download your state’s skills mismatch fact sheet here.


[1] Sometimes called “middle-skill jobs”

 

Posted In: Work-Based Learning, Postsecondary Education, Upskilling
New Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Regulations fall short of standards to which we hold Registered Apprenticeship, but could still be valuable workforce programs

On March 10th, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released final regulations on the roles and responsibilities of newly created Standards Recognition Entities (SREs) as an effort to implement a new Industry Recognized Apprenticeship system. Under the rule, SREs are nongovernmental entities who will have oversight role for ensuring Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) meet quality standards defined within the regulatory language. SREs will stand in a role similar to that DOL and State Apprenticeship Agencies (SAAs) play in the registered system, and IRAPs are intended to operate parallel to registered apprenticeships – sharing the goal of helping workers access industry-recognized credentials while learning on the job and meeting industry demand for skills, but removing DOL from the role of validating individual program components and practices.

The regulations define IRAPs as “high-quality apprenticeship programs, wherein an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and progressively advancing skills, that include a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component and that result in an industry-recognized credential” and additional analysis, below, details the rule’s distinctions between IRAPs and registered programs.

When evaluated as on-the-job learning programs, IRAPs stand to offer opportunity to workers to access industry driven credentials while earning a wage and to support business engagement for training workers. When evaluated next to the standards to which DOL holds registered programs, however, IRAPs are provided significant flexibility in program structure, wage progression, oversight and interaction with the public workforce system that seem counterproductive to protecting workers or meeting industry demand.

What is in the final rule

The final rule includes regulations on the process for becoming an SRE, the oversight and support role of SREs to the programs they recognize, required structure of IRAPs and incorporates several recommendations made by National Skills Coalition and our national partners. It also, however, fails to require several hallmarks of the registered program – including wage increases commensurate with skills gains, alignment with other state oversight of nondegree credentials, and robust equal employment opportunity provisions.

Registered apprenticeship – and now the newly created Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs – are governed by the National Apprenticeship Act (NAA), a six-paragraph piece of legislation that has been subject to only minimal Congressional updates over the past eighty years. Instead of through Congressional reauthorization, much of the policy and practice of apprenticeship in the U.S. is regulated through agency rulemaking.

The final rule updates those regulations, splitting them into subpart A (substantively the same as current regulations covering registered apprenticeship programs) and subpart B (creating and governing Standards Recognition Entities who will have oversight of Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs).

In creating SREs, the Department’s stated goal was to provide “additional flexibility necessary to scale the apprenticeship model into new industries and to address the diverse workforce needs of different industries and occupations.” This goal serves as the foundation of key differences between IRAPs and registered programs, including an exclusion in the final rule prohibiting SREs from recognizing IRAPs in the construction industry.

This carve out was absent in the draft regulations released last year, and the subject of a massive campaign by the building trades unions in responding to those draft regulations. According to proponents of the construction industry exclusion, and the Department in their justification of excluding construction in the final IRAP rule, the fact that the majority of U.S. apprenticeships are in the construction industry is evidence the model is effective for the industry and that expanding IRAPs to construction is not necessary to meet the goal of expanding apprenticeships in the U.S.

The regulations included a severability clause, allowing the remainder of the final rule to be implemented even if the exclusion of the construction industry is subject to legal action that would delay it being implemented.

Establishing Standards Recognition Entities (SRE)

The regulations detail who is eligible to become an SRE, including business associations, local agencies, educational institutions, community-based organizations, unions, labor management partnerships or a consortium of those entities. To qualify, entities must show expertise in an industry necessary to evaluate training, structure and curricula of programs and capacity to assess program quality, defined as ensuring programs meet the definition of industry recognized programs offered below. SREs would be recognized for five years. 

This section of the final regs contains few significant changes from the proposed rule, but the department adds additional language around removing conflicts of interest between SREs and the IRAPs they recognize and a new requirement that SREs ensure IRAPs maintain an apprenticeship agreement with each apprentice in its program.

Between the release of the final rule and its implementation on May 11th, DOL anticipates conducting technical assistance with entities who are interested in applying to be an SRE to prepare them to apply for recognition.

SRE oversight of IRAPs

SREs are tasked with ensuring IRAPs under their recognition train apprentices for jobs that require specialized knowledge, language that is similar to, but not quite as restrictive as the language governing registered programs. SREs must also ensure programs have a written apprenticeship plan, that apprentices receive credit for prior knowledge, if relevant, and lead to industry-recognized credentials. SREs also must ensure programs provide workers safe work environments, access to mentoring, adherence to EEO laws.

Integration of NSC comments into the final rule

The final regulations offer several updates to a draft version of the rule released last summer, including accepting and acknowledging many of the comments NSC submitted both individually and with a group of other national organizations. These updates include:

  • Improved transparency of the credentials apprentices will earn in programs and the process for earning them. The final rule requires IRAPs to have training plans and apprenticeship agreements with each participant. This responds to NSC’s recommendations that programs need to offer transparency to workers and businesses on industry credentials workers will earn and how they will do so. This transparency is critical to workers being informed about the impact of their programs and to ensuring programs meet industry demand. This transparency is a step towards ensuring businesses utilizing IRAPs have clarity and understanding about the programs run for and by them and will level the playing field for competitors in a local area. Transparency is also critical for workers’ ability to align their own career and education goals within opportunities of training programs.

 

  • Improved reporting and performance measures for programs, including the requirement that SREs both report on attainment of industry-recognized credentials and apprentices’ average earnings and make this information publicly available. This change responds to NSC comments urging DOL to publicly share a list of all SREs and to include the information on program employment outcomes at 2nd and 4th quarter after program completion, attainment of industry-recognized credentials, and post-program wages. This publicly available information helps map credential attainment and measure outcomes of IRAPs comparatively to how we measure other workforce programs. NSC urged the department to disaggregate the data collected on each of these measures, but the narrative and regulations do not address this comment. At the same time, the final rule does not establish a system for reporting and publicizing this data. NSC encourages DOL to release guidance on how SREs will be required to make this data regularly and publicly available to businesses and workers.

 

Even with these changes, however, when compared to the quality standards and processes required of registered apprenticeship programs, the final rule creates seemingly unnecessary distinctions between the two types of apprenticeship. Some of these challenges include:

  • IRAPs are not required to provide workers with guaranteed wage increases commensurate with skills gains, a hallmark of the registered apprenticeship system and a key retention tool for businesses running programs. NSC submitted comments that urged DOL to update the definition of IRAPs to include clearly defined wage structures with increase commensurate with skills gains or credential attainment. NSC urges DOL to issue guidance and provide SREs with technical assistance on best practices for providing apprentices with wage increases commensurate with skills gains or credential attainment, including the business justification for doing so.

 

  • The final rules do not adequately map out the role of states in administering workforce programs within their borders. Unlike most other training or education programming – like that run with federal WIOA, Higher Education Act or Career and Technical Education funding – the final rule does not include a required role for the state in oversight or approval of programs. Several of NSC’s state agency partners highlighted a concern that without an explicit role for the state, programs stood to be disjointed from each other and disconnected from the larger state plan and priorities for addressing worker and business skill needs. NSC urges the department to issue guidance, prior to the implementation of the final rules, that provide state agencies, including but not limited to State Apprenticeship Agencies, with information on how to best support high quality programs in their state.

 

  • The regulations would not apply the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) protections applied to registered programs to IRAPs. The rule also does not require SREs to disaggregate data on participation and completion rates to evaluate how well programs serve women, people of color and people with disabilities, along with other workers underrepresented in apprenticeship programs. The final rule, like the draft rule, seems to conflate state and federal EEO laws with the standard of outreach and retention efforts required of registered apprenticeship programs. Under the regulations governing registered programs, those with more than 5 apprentices are required to do analysis of workers available in their local area and evaluate the demographic composition of their program against available workers. Programs that are not representative of their local area are then tasked with targeted outreach and retention efforts to expand the pool of workers who have access to – and success in – registered programs. These outreach and retention efforts are separate from EEO laws that govern harassment on the job, and are intended – in addition to protecting the welfare of apprentices – to ensure businesses have access to the broadest pipeline of potential workers. Given the overwhelming mismatch between skills workers can access and those businesses need, it seems inefficient and contrary to supporting business expansion of apprenticeship to not require those running IRAPs to adhere to these established best practices. The regulations governing EEO in registered programs were last updated in 2015 and are still being fully implemented. NSC strongly encourages DOL to issue guidance connecting SREs to those processes as applied to registered programs.

 

Congressional Context for the Final Rule

This final rule comes in the context of increasingly partisan conversations about how to modernize apprenticeship in the U.S., based on bipartisan support for the strategy but differing plans for how to expand it. Democrats on the Hill are, largely, defenders of the registered process – and associated modernization that system would require to address workforce needs in the 21st century – while Republicans have increasingly dedicated attention to the capacity of this new IRAP model to scale apprenticeship. At the same time, there are several bipartisan efforts among members of Congress to expand both registered apprenticeship and work-based learning programs and Congress has increased appropriations over the past 5 years to support registered apprenticeship.

While the issue is not completely polarized, these final regulations and any appropriations to support their implementation is likely a nonstarter with Congressional Democrats. House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce and Higher Education Chair, Susan Davis (D-CA), released a discussion draft of a bill to expand registered apprenticeship earlier in March, the product of bipartisan negotiations. Republicans have since stepped away from negotiations on the bill, however, in part because it did not include provisions on Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs. Without bipartisan agreement in the House, the bill is unlikely to see progress in the Senate both because of similar resistance from Republicans to excluding IRAPs and because the HELP Committee has made Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization a priority. With an already shortened Congressional calendar in an election year and HELP Committee Chairman Alexander (R-TN) poised to retire at the end of 2020, the committee’s bandwidth will likely focus first on HEA, leaving insufficient time to negotiate a bipartisan apprenticeship expansion.

Posted In: Work Based Learning
Listen to the Skilled America Podcast - Live from Skills Summit 2020!

How is skills advocacy making its way into the conversation around the 2020 election and the future of workforce development? In the debut episode of Skilled America, recorded live at the 2020 Skills Summit in Washington, DC, we talked to Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman of the National League of Cities, Traci Scott of the National Urban League, and Brian Turmail of the Associated General Contractors of America about how their organizations are working to bring skills to the forefront this campaign season.