The Importance Of Workforce Development

Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. 

As a product of a great public education system in
Tennessee, and as a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, I feel very strongly that creating
educational opportunities for everyone is imperative to our country’s future success. In the First District of Tennessee, I often hear from business owners, employers, administrators and students who tell me of the need for quality education and adequate training for today’s workplace. Just as a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for health care, it will not work for education and workforce training. Each state – and each region – is different. Empowering local officials – including school administrators, teachers, workforce development boards and employers in the community – is critical to creating a workforce that will be able to succeed in an increasingly specialized and highly-skilled economy.

While I believe we should create pathways for anyone who wants to go to college, a four-year college degree is not for everyone. It is estimated that between 2014 and 2024, 48 percent of job openings will be jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. I’m proud of the State of Tennessee, which recognized this reality when it created the Tennessee Promise program. This program is unique and ensures that any student from Tennessee can go to any of the state’s community colleges, or technical colleges, tuition free. The Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Elizabethton has a program completion rate of 90 percent and a job placement rate of 88 percent. For many students, college will be the right path; but for others, the right path means getting the technical skills needed in today’s economy.

I consistently hear from employers in the First District about the lack of skilled workers. Employers need workers who have the necessary soft skills and technical skills to be successful in today’s workforce, one that is aging and changing. In the masonry industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is predicted to be a spike in mason retirements in the next decade, which will only serve to exacerbate the shortage of highly skilled workers in a critical field at a time when we must work to revitalize our aging infrastructure. With a declining rate of labor participation, encouraging workforce training programs that help workers acquire the skills and education they need to succeed is one of my top priorities.

The good news is we’ve started taking steps to make our federal programs more flexible. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which I was proud to vote for, was signed into law on July 22, 2014. WIOA consolidated ineffective programs, cut bureaucracy and empowered states to produce a strategic plan to provide training, employment services, adult education and vocational rehabilitation through a coordinated, comprehensive system. This law also strengthened overall alignment between local workforce areas and labor markets, economic development regions, evaluation and data reporting requirements.

In the 114th Congress I cosponsored H.R.5587, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. This important legislation, which helps ensure technical education is focused on meeting the needs of local communities and local employers, passed the House but was not considered by the Senate. I hope we will continue the important work of reauthorizing this program.

I am also focused on encouraging initiatives that have demonstrated success and involve public-private partnerships. One example of this is the Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships are a time-honored and proven workforce development model. While apprenticeships may be familiar to those in the construction occupations (electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc.), I believe this model can also be successful utilized in industries like information technology, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and more. I am committed to ensuring that students have opportunities at work-based learning, pre-apprenticeships, and other career pathway options.

As higher education gets more expensive, and companies struggle to find skilled workers, we need solutions that are responsive to employee needs and will lead to good paying jobs. Work-based learning, and other proven models like apprenticeships, are just a couple ways we can ensure an efficient and effective workforce and labor market.