Bob Lanter, Executive Director, California Workforce Association (August 2018)

The National Council for the American Worker, and the Future of Learning to Work

Last week President Trump signed an Executive Order creating the National Council for the American Worker. The Council is comprised of ten cabinet level/Administration official members and a private sector board made up of 25 people which will advise the Council on workforce policy in the United States.

This action by President Trump furthers his Administration’s focus on job training and vocational education to address the skills gap across the country. The Council will advise the President on public-private partnerships and strategies aimed at increasing industry recognized apprenticeships and other earn and learn/work-based learning opportunities for adults and youth. The administration aims to: Reorganize and consolidate existing resources through this interagency “National Council for the American Worker”; share information with the American public about the labor market;  and ask businesses to take a leadership role by signing a “Pledge to America’s Workers” to “expand apprenticeships, increasing on-the-job training, and providing Americans from high school to near-retirement with opportunities to obtain skills to secure stable jobs and careers in the modern economy.”  

We at the California Workforce association applaud this action by the Administration, as the overarching premise is based on principles that stand to greatly benefit the Workforce Development System. Increase data available to workers/students to make more informed occupational/educational choices, identify online learning resources and their efficacy, and increase partnerships across the country with a focus on creating more effective training programs and outcomes.

However, the challenge we face is matching the enthusiastic rhetoric coming out of the White House with its lackluster investment into skill-based training.

In Congress, workforce development is still a critical issue.  That is why it passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, that passed almost four years ago.  This bipartisan bill passed the Senate 95-3, and the House 415-6, with the intent to “help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy”. 

Federal resources are directed to state and local communities – overseen by collaborative, business-led Workforce Development Boards made up of members of local communities that are committed to connecting labor supply with demand.  These community leaders, which include, postsecondary and educational institutions, non-profits, unions and government organizations are meant to partner with employers to develop strategies to help both job- and career-seekers gain the skills they need for good jobs and grow their careers. 

Unfortunately, the President’s last two proposed budgets have cut federal workforce funding by more than 60% and has also proposed the complete elimination of critical programs.

To that end, this Executive Order could prove to be a significant development for local workforce boards to showcase their value within job training, and job placement. The Executive Order specifically identifies workforce development boards in the section referencing public-private partnerships so there is a base level recognition. This provides the unique opportunity to expand upon current successes in the Workforce System that emphasizes a demand-driven focus on employer needs. California Workforce Boards are in constant dialogue with local businesses and economic development experts, watching individual labor markets and matching local demand with job seeker training and development. The President has the ability to supercharge this work, not reinvent it.

However, we can take heart in the several employers from California that signed the President’s pledge to help close the skills gap. Now more than ever it is encouraging to see large employers vowing to invest in their workforce, and what could prove to be an ongoing commitment to rethink and invest in workforce development. 

The federally funded Workforce System in the United States is designed to be employer driven, and job training is not effective without an engaged employer community. Encouraging more corporate responsibility will be indispensable with a federal government that has decreased resources to less than 50% of what was going to Workforce Development just a decade ago. This Executive Order has given us as a country the opportunity to invest in our workers, for the good of our companies and people alike.

The National Council for the American Worker, and the Future of Learning to Work

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