House passes SKILLS Act

A Republican bill to streamline federal job training programs passed the House last week, but the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act faces strong opposition from congressional Democrats and the Obama administration. Both complain the bill doesn’t guarantee that low-income people are first in line for job training.

House GOP leaders promoted the SKILLS Act, which would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA),  in a visit to the automotive skills training program at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), reports Community College Times.

The SKILLS Act would eliminate or streamline 35 “ineffective and duplicative programs,” according to GOP leaders, and create a flexible WIA fund to serve as a single source of support for workers, employers and job seekers. Democrats, however, are concerned that would mean less funding for job training at a time when more is needed.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), a former president of Mayland Community College in North Carolina, said the SKILLS Act would “unravel the complicated mess” that the American workforce development system has become and streamline it.

​Noting that the nation is spending $18 billion on these programs, Fox said the SKILLS Act can achieve better results with less money. Providing more control at the local level is “extraordinarily important,” she said, because “the suits in Washington” don’t understand local needs.

Only 14 percent of would-be workers receive the job training they need, said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and a co-sponsor. People get “lost in the maze,” he said. “Our bill empowers community colleges to get people the skills they need to go to work,” he said.

Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), formerly an executive at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, said the SKILLS Act would let local workforce investment boards (WIBs) funnel more funding to “priority providers,” such as community colleges. Local boards could contract with community colleges to provide training to large groups of participants rather than funding individual job seekers.

The American Association of Community Colleges supports greater flexibility, but is concerned about some provisions, wrote President Walter Bumphus in a letter to Kline and Foxx. The letter was co-signed by the Association for Community College Trustees. Both groups called for prioritizing training for low-income people.