House Subcommittee on Innovation and Workforce Development Holds Hearing on “Putting America Back to Work”

Jul 17, 2020

by ASME.org

Last week, the Subcommittee on Innovation and Workforce Development held a hearing to discuss the challenges of unemployment and future workforce development caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Subcommittee Chairman Jason Crow (CO-06) noted in his opening remarks, over 45 million Americans have applied for unemployment since March. Some experts have estimated that up to 42% of the jobs that have disappeared during the pandemic may not return. The hearing featured experts in small business and workforce development programs to discuss how to bolster federal programs to develop the nation’s workforce and get Americans back to work.
 
Much of the witnesses’ testimony focused on the crucial role that job centers and community colleges play in workforce development. These local centers provide workshops for job seekers, host trainings and assessments, and also serve as a physical space for interviews to take place. This is particularly helpful for small businesses who may not be in a position to put substantial funding into their workforce development programs. Kelly Folks, Workforce Director for the Arapahoe/Douglas Workforce Center in Centennial, Colorado, also noted that access to these centers and their resources helps to cut down on the increasing technology gap between rural and urban America. Her center runs a “Close the Gap” program which provides unemployed individuals with a laptop, basic computer training, and personalized assistance with job-searching.
 
For community colleges that provide trade skills, virtual delivery of instruction has not been sufficient. Dr. Joe Schaffer, President of Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming, commended his instructors for their innovative teaching during this time; one professor strapped a GoPro Camera to his head in order to show his diesel technician students exactly what he was doing as he worked on a vehicle. However, even this innovative way of teaching cannot replace hands-on learning, Schaffer stated. As a result, his next challenge is figuring out how to safely bring students back to campus. For students in the technology, trade, and healthcare industries in particular, a delay in training will further restrict the pipeline of qualified individuals entering the workforce.
 
Kelly Moore, Vice President of GKM Auto Parts Inc. in Zanesville, Ohio, emphasized another hurdle that has impacted her businesses’ workforce development programs: funding. Funds that would typically be used for recruitment and training of new employees have had to be diverted—to buy personal protective equipment, among other things—in order to stay in business. When the loss of revenue due to the pandemic is taken into account, employee training programs become less of a priority as business owners work just to stay afloat.
 
Witnesses provided specific measures that the federal government can take to bolster workforce development programs. Dr. Demetra Smith Nightingale, Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, called for additional funding for infrastructure development that is focused on information technology (IT) and broadband access. She also advocated for funding to expand local job centers that would allow them to increase their resources for job-seeking individuals, especially in non-urban and high-unemployment areas. Folks echoed these suggestions, noting that the funding must come with the flexibility to be able to meet what the local community needs are, rather than as a blanket approach. Moore noted the potential for the federal government to assist in advertising workforce development programs and directly connecting job centers with employers who are looking to hire. Dr. Schaffer referenced the 2008 Recession: as jobs disappeared, employers were forced to change their business models and expectations as people were displaced. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to high unemployment. Millions of Americans will be looking for new opportunities and will need training for these jobs, and they may just turn to their local community college or job center to help them.
 
A complete list of witnesses is provided below:
  • Dr. Demetra Smith Nightingale, Institute Fellow, Urban Institute, Washington, DC
  • Ms. Kelly Folks, Arapahoe/Douglas Workforce Director, Workforce Center, Centennial, CO, on behalf of Workforce Boards and Centers and the Rocky Mountain Workforce Development Association (RMWDA)
  • Dr. Joe Schaffer, President, Laramie County Community College, Cheyenne, WY, on behalf of the American Association of Community Colleges
  • Ms. Kelly Moore, Vice President, GKM Auto Parts Inc., Zanesville, OH
To watch a recording of the hearing, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4qM6aiqZMk&feature=youtu.be.

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