After more than a decade of continuing resolutions and missed opportunities, President Obama signed the bi-partisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law on July 22. WIOA is the successor legislation to the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA).
Unfortunately, WIOA doesn’t restore overall workforce development funding to pre-sequestration levels. At $3 billion, WOIA’s funding is less than what WIA funding was in 2008 and far less than the $9.5 billion appropriated for job training in 1975 under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).
While the WIOA is far from perfect, it’s a quantum leap forward compared to its predecessor.
The country has needed new workforce legislation for a long time. We’re experiencing an economic recovery that is slow and uneven, but it is improving. Nonetheless, the unemployment rate is still high, many long-term unemployed are struggling to find their way back into the labor force, and recent college graduates are finding an equally difficult time entering the labor force.
The irony is that there are still three million jobs that employers are unable to fill.
Given that scenario, you would think that investing in workforce training wouldn’t be controversial.
Au contraire, Pierre.
In some circles, the new legislation has raised the question of just who is responsible for workforce training. Is it the schools, the workforce system, or employers?
Motoko Rich, writing in the New York Times, opined that “while private companies benefit from retraining programs, the public foots the bill.” Rich implies that federally funded employment training programs are just more corporate welfare.
I would argue that she is wrong on two counts.
First, it isn’t only companies that benefit from training a person to get a job that pays a sustainable wage. The person benefits by earning a paycheck and the public benefits from the taxes a worker pays and the goods and services they buy that keep others employed. Moreover, the public is not paying for unemployment or welfare.
Second, her claim that the “public foots the bill” implies that private sector companies don’t pay for training.
The American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), in their 2013 State of the Industry Report, reported that the private sector spent $164.2 billion on “employee training and development.”
Why is having an effective workforce development system important?
It’s important because the world of work has changed, is changing still, and will continue to change. The workforce has to keep pace.
An increasing number of employers complain of the skills gap, defined as the difference between the jobseeker’s soft skills and occupational skills an employer needs for the vacant position. A Kauffman Foundation survey reported that “finding qualified people is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of continued growth.”
There are many options for people to get the training they need and that employers want, yet the skills gap isn’t closing. What’s missing, and who bears the responsibility for personal (soft skills) and professional development (occupational skills)?
Here’s a novel approach, what if we instilled in young people the idea that personal development, personal growth and continuing education is — wait for it — the individual’s responsibility?
If there’s one lesson that the recent recession has taught, it’s that we are ultimately responsible for ourselves, including our careers and our retirement. The government and the private sector can help, and certainly have a role to play, but it’s up to each of us to assess our strengths, weaknesses and interests and to choose an appropriate career path.
Why would anyone place the ownership of their personal and professional development into the hands of someone or some organization that may or may not care? If an individual doesn’t give their personal and professional development the time and energy it deserves, why should anyone else?
Maybe I’m being too harsh, but personal and professional development is a choice. You can do it or not. Yes, you may need to give up doing something else to fit it into your life, but life is all about priorities and choices.
Congress could craft perfect workforce legislation, the community colleges and high schools could offer perfect technical and work-readiness programs, but at some point the student/jobseeker has to want to take advantage of them.
My father would say that if the “why” is big enough, you’ll find the “how.” I don’t recall him ever saying that it would be easy.
Paul Grasso is the president & CEO of The Development Corporation of Clinton County.