Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Worker Training and Job Programs

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Publication date: 
30 April 2012

The Senate Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation, and  Export Promotion held a hearing on promoting American competitiveness: filling  jobs today and training workers for tomorrow.   This April 17 hearing included testimony from Martha Kanter,  Undersecretary, US Department of Education; Roger Kilmer, Director of the  Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of  Standards and Technology; Jane Oats, Assistant Secretary of Employment and  Training Administration at the Department of Labor; Robert Kill, President and  CEO of Enterprise Minnesota; Jennifer McNelly, President of The Manufacturing  Institute; Lee Lambert, President of Shoreline Community College (WA); Don  Nissanka, President and CEO of Exergonix; and Monica Pfarr, Corporate Director  of The American Welding Society.

This hearing examined the role that training programs play  in developing a highly skilled workforce and also examined opportunities of  building partnerships between government, industry, and the education community  in response to the needs of employers. 

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) opened the hearing by  expressing her interest in integrating high school and community college training  programs with workforce needs.  Senator  Mark Warner (D-VA) stated that more local and state training programs and  partnerships with businesses at the state level are key to solving the  workforce training problems faced by employers.

Kilmer presented an overview of how MEPs address workforce  training for skills needed in the advanced manufacturing sector.  He stated that small manufacturing enterprises  have difficulty maintaining the skills training necessary to advance their  workforce needs and that MEPs provide technology acceleration, supplier  development, sustainability, workforce and continuous improvement support. 

Kilmer stated:

“MEP’s vision is to  strengthen American manufacturing – accelerating its ongoing transformation  into a more efficient and powerful engine of innovation driving economic growth  and job creation….  As MEP creates an  environment of rapid manufacturing innovation, we must also create workforce  strategies and tools specifically for small manufacturers that will support  their adoption of sustainable, high-tech production and increased exporting. As  we grow domestic industry, replace retiring workers, encourage exporting, and  bring manufacturing back into the U.S. from abroad, we must ensure that we have  the workforce manufacturers need with skills in sophisticated manufacturing  processes – the kind of advanced manufacturing that MEP is supporting.”

Oats emphasized the benefits of the Workforce Investment Act  and stated that the public workforce system plays a leadership role in the  development of training programs.  In her  statement, she gave an overview of the Jobs Innovation Accelerator Challenge  which supports 20 high growth regional industry clusters in advanced  manufacturing.  She offered facts about  employers needing to hire H1B visa holders rather than US workers to fill some  skilled positions stating that the manufacturing industry is one of the largest  sectors hiring H1B visa applicants. 

Kanter’s testimony summarized the wide variety of  opportunities offered at community colleges.   She pointed out that community colleges vary in structure, mission and  resources but that they are a place to acquire new skills and training, receive  job certification, and are local and affordable springboards for students wishing  to change careers.  Community colleges  are challenged with increases in enrollment and at the same decreasing budget  resources.  Community colleges are faced  with needing to reach out to the local community to help support the funding of  lab spaces.  She emphasized the need to  preserve Pell Grants to low-income students and described the Trade Adjustment  Assistance Community College and Career Training program which provide  preparation for manufacturing jobs. 

Kill gave an overview of the Growth Accelerator Program  which addresses the skills gap created by the rapid changes in technologies  relating to manufacturing.  He offered  the following facts to highlight the severity of the unemployment problems in  manufacturing:

“In the fourth quarter  of 2011, there were 4,925 unfilled jobs in Minnesota’s manufacturing sector,  accounting for 9.8 percent of all job vacancies in the state. This means that  there is a collective $5.5 million in average weekly wages that could be paid  to manufacturing workers, that isn’t being paid due to vacant positions in the  industry. That number of career vacancies continues to grow based on the  results of our State of Manufacturing®  survey. This gap will widen as more workers retire.”

Nissanka’s testimony depicted how US innovation is lost as  we ship jobs overseas because the innovation at the ground level is occurring  in places other than the United States.   He summarized the Missouri Innovation Campus which focuses on math and  science training programs combined with job training. 

Lambert stated that the success of the Professional  Automotive Training Center, a premier automotive training center in the US, is  due to the communication between the training center and business leaders in  order to match the skills needed by businesses with the training courses and  experiences offered to students at the center.   Pfarr emphasized the high percentage of goods in this country that are  still manufactured using welding techniques.   She gave an overview of the Careers Trailer that contains welding  simulators where participants can practice virtual welding. 

McNelly began her testimony by stating statistics about the  deteriorating condition of the manufacturing workforce but highlighting  community college programs that trained workers in 16 weeks.  She highlighted that aligning workforce  training with industry demands is why the National Association of Manufacturers  supports S. 1243 the America Works Act. 

Questions to the panelists included Senator Roy  Blunt’s (R-MO) inquiry into whether the skills certification programs mentioned  in the testimony are headed in the proper direction, to which the panelists  agreed that it was.  Blunt also inquired  about anticipating the future needs of jobs skills.  Klobuchar inquired as to how community  colleges persuade often hesitant parents that these job training programs are a  good investment.