Washington Takes Action on Key Workforce Investments

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This year, the National League of Cities (NLC) is focused on telling the story of city infrastructure through our Rebuild With Us campaign. Together with local leaders, we’re calling on Congress and the administration to work with cities to invest in the roads, bridges, waterways and broadband networks that make up the economic backbone of America’s communities.

However, workforce development is also a key component of any infrastructure project, though it is often overlooked during policy debates. That’s why we’ve been hard at work highlighting the need for a trained and skilled workforce, our human capital infrastructure, that can build and maintain the critical components of our nation’s physical infrastructure.

Conversations around infrastructure investment seem to be gaining some forward momentum with the recent release of a proposal by Representative Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), outgoing Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which followed the administration’s infrastructure proposal from earlier this year.

Importantly, Congress and the administration have been taking steps to ensure workforce development is part of the equation. Over the last few weeks we have seen two significant developments:

1. National Council for the American Worker Established
On July 19, President Trump signed an Executive Order establishing the National Council for the American Worker, which is comprised of individuals from the administration and is tasked with developing a national strategy for workforce development, with a focus on employment, training and the use of data.

The Council will be supported by an advisory board comprised of leaders from the private sector, educational institutions, philanthropic organizations and state government. The advisory board will provide advice and on-the-ground examples to the Council as they work to develop a national workforce strategy. In addition, the announcement showcased the new “Pledge to America’s Workers,” which asks companies across the country to commit to investing in the training and retraining of their workforces.

Following the announcement, NLC commended the president for his focus on investing in workforce development, which is critical to the economic vitality of cities, as well as highlighting the need for the inclusion of local government representation on the advisory board for the Council.

With this announcement, there is a clear role for local leaders to continue their advocacy efforts. We must ensure that workforce development programs continue to receive the full federal funding and support necessary to run local workforce development programs at-scale to meet business and jobseeker needs.

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2. Career and Technical Education Bill Becomes Law
On July 31, the president signed into law The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353), which reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act). The Perkins Act directs investment by the federal government to vocational and technical education across the country, with an increased focus on academic achievement and strengthening the connections between secondary and postsecondary education.

This reauthorization provides the necessary updates to career and technical education programs, including eliminating a negotiation process between states crafting goals for their career and technical education programs and the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. States receive $1 billion in grants through this program.

NLC has long championed the reauthorization of the Perkins Act and supported its signing. The reauthorization is a major success for cities as it revamps the way the federal government invests in skills gaps and ensures that our education and workforce strategies are keeping pace with the demands of local and regional industries.

Simply put – it ensures that city leaders can make certain that their residents are trained to meet labor market demands, keeping themselves and cities competitive.

Perkins Act reauthorization – as well as connecting workforce investments into local career and technical education programs and workforce board initiatives are key pillars of our Rebuild With Us guiding principles, as well as key components of the Administration’s infrastructure principles.

Looking Ahead
These actions in Washington are an important step forward as Congress and the administration consider the workforce needs and implications across all infrastructure sectors. Congress is currently working on several additional pieces of workforce legislation that would invest in the water and wastewater sectors as well as the aviation maintenance sector, two sectors that will lose a large portion of their workforce due to retirement over the next decade and need an infusion of the next generation of skilled workers.

While we’re happy with this progress, this is just the beginning of an important conversation around workforce development. We hope all city leaders will join us in sharing their city’s workforce development story and tell their members of Congress that we must invest in our nation’s workforce.

About the Author: Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the Program Director for Human Development at the National League of Cities. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @martinezruckman.