In Focus: Let’s modernize work force development

June 27, 2014 

Oped: Let's modernize workforce development By Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) From impromptu negotiations down the hall to discussions on the subway to the Capitol, sometimes something as simple as having offices next door to one another can make all the difference in Congress these days. As colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, we’ve had our share of disagreements on policy, but as next-door neighbors on the first floor of the Russell Senate Office Building, we’ve taken advantage of our proximity and our unique ability to work together and reach a bipartisan, bicameral deal to reauthorize and improve our federal work force development systems for the first time in almost two decades. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which passed the Senate last week, is the product of years of work and months of bicameral discussions with six of our colleagues, Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate. The bill, which now heads to the House and we hope soon after to the president’s desk, will bring our federal work force development and job training systems into the 21st century at a time when our economy needs it most. Each year, federal work force development programs serve about 20 million Americans, one in eight men and women of working age. But in 2014, we’re still training those workers with programs written in the 1990s. That’s no way to prepare someone for a job with Boeing in Washington or Siemens in Georgia. So our legislation doubles down on the federal work force development programs that work, and improves or eliminates programs that have become outdated. It creates a federal work force development system that’s more nimble, better aligned with the modern needs of new businesses, and more accountable, so we can continue to make it better in the future. Neither of us got everything we wanted in this bill — nobody did — but we all knew that our work force programs, which have been due for reauthorization for more than a decade, needed to be improved. So, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Here in the Senate, we worked across the aisle to pass a reauthorization bill through the HELP Committee, and in the House, our colleagues crafted a version of their own. Then, we honored an old congressional tradition that is too rarely used these days, and we met in the middle. Since then, a long and diverse list of businesses, labor and work force development leaders, as well as governors and mayors, community colleges and economic developers from around the country have voiced their strong support for the bill. And that wide-ranging support further solidifies what the two of us have known all along: that federal work force development programs are critical for workers, for businesses and the economy. Each of us has heard from hundreds of business leaders in our home states, from video game design firms in Washington to shipping and maritime companies in Georgia, who desperately want to hire workers with high-tech skills and expertise for 21st century jobs. And each of us has met with workers from places like Tacoma and Savannah, Ga., who have been laid off and need new training, new skills, and new jobs to support their families. So as it heads to the House, we will be urging our colleagues across the Capitol to support this bill and continue making critical investments in American workers. We were proud to work together, break through the gridlock and push this bipartisan, bicameral bill through Congress. But our work together won’t end when this bill is signed into law. We still plan to walk over to each other’s offices, talk about where we can find common ground and work together to build on this bipartisan deal and continue helping workers, businesses and the economy. w Democrat Patty Murray is Washington’s senior senator, serving since 1992. Republican Johnny Isakson is Georgia's junior senator, serving since 2005. This column also appeared in The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C.

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