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Senate Duo Punches Time Clock on Job-Training Bill

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Isakson, above, and Murray floated an outline of their draft of a job-training bill to stakeholders, including the National Governors Association, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, indicating they have a solid framework for the reauthorization.

Issues that are still being fine-tuned include ways to streamline existing programs further, ensure a more efficient delivery of services, provide states and local communities more control over the programs, and find better transparency and oversight mechanisms to identify ineffective programs.

Pressure for Congress to reauthorize the law mounted after a 2011 Government Accountability Office analysis found that 44 of the 47 federal job-training programs overlap in some way. In its report, the GAO wrote that “consolidating administrative structures” would help increase efficiencies.

At least one major roadblock still stands in the way of a Senate agreement — one that’s widely blamed for crippling last year’s reauthorization efforts. The makeup of the local workforce boards, among other minor issues, caused Harkin to postpone the markup of last year’s bill at least three times before momentum petered out altogether and the negotiators came to an impasse.

“It was definitely a sticky issue last go-around,” Isakson’s labor staffer said.

Workforce boards are the central nerve center of the current law, where job-seekers go to find employment or learn new skills, and employers go to search for new hires with specific skills. The boards are responsible for directing federal, state and local funding for job-training programs. Various stakeholders are appointed to the board, including business leaders, union representatives and advocates for special populations, such as the homeless or veterans.

The specific number of board members represented by each stakeholder group has evolved into a point of contention in both chambers, with Republicans pushing to boost the number of appointees from the business community. The House-passed reauthorization bill requires two-thirds of the members of each local workforce board to be employers. But Democrats blasted the legislation as “ideological” and argued that the quota diminishes the voices of other key stakeholders.

To be sure, Democrats acknowledge the importance of the business community to workforce boards, especially for providing a snapshot of emerging industries, jobs and in-demand skills. But they see the majority requirement as potentially resulting in limiting opportunities for special populations, such as those with disabilities, English language learners, homeless people or veterans.

Those who serve on workforce training boards emphasize the importance of the business community.

“For the workforce board to try and weave a workforce development system that responds to the needs of the businesses in that region, that’s pretty complicated work,” said Ron Painter, CEO of the National Association of Workforce Boards, which among many other things, lobbies to secure the role of the business sector in workforce development.

Painter, who supports the House proposal to require two-thirds of each board to be business leaders, underscored several successful business-led workforce placement programs around the country, including partnerships between Mississippi and the Toyota car company; Dallas and the logistics industry; and Lancaster, Pa., and the food-processing industry.

“My most valuable members are the business leaders,” agreed Steve Partridge, CEO of Charlotte Works, a workforce board in Charlotte, N.C. “If we didn’t know the employers’ needs, we wouldn’t be training people on the skills that are in demand.”

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