Over the past 5 months, Congress has passed three Covid response packages, the House has advanced a fourth (the HEROES Act), and the House and Senate have started their annual appropriations process. In each of these cases, Congress has undervalued skills training programs as an important element of both addressing our current crisis and its current and future economic impact.
As lawmakers negotiate what is likely to be the final coronavirus stimulus package this year, they must recognize that new jobs – and public investment in job creation – are a critical part of our response to the largest economic downturn in the past century. It will be necessary to ensuring employment opportunities for workers most impacted by the health crisis and its economic impact – people of color, those without a high school diploma, and those who were already disconnected from work or school prior to the downturn.
To fill those jobs, though, Congress will need to do something policymakers have yet to accomplish up to this point: adequately investing in skills so workers can access and succeed in in-demand careers.
Any Covid response package needs to include key investments necessary to helping workers reengage in the workforce, upskill, and be successful in these newly created jobs. Here are the four workforce issues Congress must address in the next stimulus package:
Issue 1: Reskilling workers who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 for industries that are hiring
While some of the 40 million workers who have lost their jobs over the past few months will return to the same job or industry once communities begin to reopen, a significant number of workers will need retraining to successfully transition to in-demand occupations in other fields. And, an overwhelming majority of workers recognize the value of – and prefer – short-term training programs to make this transition efficiently.
Unfortunately, federal investments in skills training have been cut by nearly 40% over the last two decades. Our public workforce and adult and postsecondary education systems can help connect workers to this kind of training but need investments today to make that possible.
Solution: Congress must invest at least $2.5 billion each in formula grants for Adults, Dislocated Workers, and Youth under WIOA, at least $1 billion in our Wagner-Peyser Employment Services, and $1 billion each in both Career and Technical Education and Adult Education.
Issue 2: Upskilling workers who are still on the job so they can maintain employment and advance in their industries
To address the current economic crisis and minimize further job loss associated with future economic impacts of Covid-19, we need to invest in keeping workers on the job and empowering businesses to upskill current workers with the digital and occupational skills necessary to succeed in 21st century careers.
Current WIOA Incumbent Worker Training is difficult to scale without adequate business engagement. We need industry partnerships that bring together businesses, education providers, the workforce system, and community organizations to build capacity for businesses to both be engaged in developing training offered by education providers and in training workers on the job.
Solution: Congress must invest $1 billion in a new Incumbent Worker Training formula fund that supports these industry partnerships to scale and empower incumbent worker training , as well as $1 billion in grants to support digital literacy skills for the 1/3 of our workforce who needs digital skills.
Issue 3: Adequately preparing workers for in-demand jobs by supporting partnerships between educators, community organizations, and local business
To address our unprecedented unemployment, empower businesses to safely and rapidly reopen, and ensure that workers with the greatest skills needs – who are also most likely to have lost their jobs during this crisis – have access to the kinds of programs that lead to family sustaining jobs, we need to support partnerships between education providers, community organizations, and the industry partners that are hiring.
Solution: Congress must invest $2 billion over the next four years to provide capacity for our country’s network of 1,050 community and technical colleges to better partner with businesses to rapidly upskill and reskill workers to meet current industry demands.
Issue 4: Connecting workers to long-term careers by training and deploying a contact tracing workforce to slow the spread of the virus
The U.S. is estimated to need 100,000 contact tracers to respond to our current crisis, a role that does not require a four-year degree. By connecting our workforce system with our public health system, we can train workers to fill those roles with a focus on workers from communities hardest hit by the current crisis – communities of color.
We need to invest public dollars in training workers, ensuring they have digital skills, and support services necessary to succeed in roles necessary to track and contain the spread of Covid-19. By connecting those workers to long-term employment once the current health pandemic subsides, Congress will both speed up an efficient, safe and effective reopening of our economy and address the disproportionate impact workers of color have experienced from this crisis.
Solution: Congress must invest at least $500 million in preparing, supporting, and advancing the careers of a contact tracing workforce.
Despite many opportunities to help workers access the skills they need during this pandemic, Congress has fallen short on investments that would connect them to family-supporting, in-demand jobs.
Without public pressure, the current – critical, but far from sufficient – proposals could be slashed to even lower levels in order to reach a bipartisan and bicameral agreement on a Covid response package. Members of Congress need to hear from workforce, education, labor, business, and other advocates today that investments in skills are necessary for an inclusive economic recovery.