U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown visited Sinclair Community College Tuesday to talk about shortages in skilled workers—and talk up his part in amending the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Since 1998, the WIA has funneled billions in federal dollars towards workforce training programs at the state and local levels. The Democratic senator is pushing a bipartisan senate version of the WIA, S 1356, as well as a bill called SECTORS that would increase local control of the distribution of the funds.
“It’s been something I’ve worked on for years coming out of a bunch of roundtables where I’ve listened to employers and laid-off workers figuring out, how do they get together,” he said Tuesday.
Brown joined Sinclair Community College president Steve Johnson for a tour of the college’s high-tech manufacturing training facilities, and learned about a long-time Sinclair program, SkillsTrac, that matches employers with trainees to be sure the training is targeted to employable skills. As WYSO has reported in the past, the manufacturing sector in the Miami Valley is struggling to recruit skilled workers and shift its image to appeal to younger workers considering higher education.
In 2013 the feds spent $8.6 billion dollars on training programs through the WIA. But attempts to reform the Workforce Investment Act have been in limbo for many years; a current House version, the SKILLS Act or HR 803, would slash funding in many areas and is unlikely to garner much support from Democrats. Nonetheless, Sen. Brown said he’s hopeful the Senate will pass a bipartisan reform bill within weeks, and called on House Speaker John Boehner to take that bill up.
“John Boehner wakes up every morning and has to decide whether he’s speaker of the Tea Party or speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Brown. "If he does his job...this bill will come to the floor and it will pass."
Speaker Boehner’s office did not agree to an interview, but emailed the following statement:
"The Democrat-controlled Senate has been sitting on the House-passed Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act (SKILLS Act) for more than 400 days now, refusing to take any action. That's in addition to dozens of other good, House-passed jobs bills. Congressman Boehner has been urging the president and Senate Democrats to pass those jobs bills...for three years now.”
Lewis Wallace is WYSO's economics reporter. Follow him @lewispants.