Good news for the nation’s workforce on Labor Day

Labor Day celebrations honoring the nation’s workers have been tempered over the past few years because of our sluggish economy.

Many Americans have lost jobs and had trouble finding new ones. College graduates discover their degrees aren’t the guarantee of opportunity they hoped for. Veterans are returning to civilian life and struggling to translate their experience into desirable job skills.

It’s nice to report some good news for a change this Labor Day.

President Barack Obama called for reform in the nation’s job training programs in this year’s State of the Union address. In a rare bipartisan agreement, the president last month took a big step to ensure the availability of job training opportunities by signing into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

After passing by a near-unanimous vote by the House and Senate, the bill reauthorizes WIOA for six years (2015-20) and is the first major overhaul of federal workforce training programs since 1998. It includes several significant positive changes for San Diego’s workforce.

This bill streamlines and localizes federal job training programs, providing significant reforms that are crucial to training craft professionals for careers in construction, as well as providing career development opportunities for current construction professionals. WIOA places an increased focus on the attainment of industry-recognized certificates and credentials linked to in-demand occupations.

For generations, the construction industry has been a source of excellent career opportunities for millions of Americans. Construction jobs cannot be off-shored or outsourced. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the construction industry’s need for workers will grow twice as fast as the average for all industries and the industry will face a workforce shortage of 1.6 million workers by 2022.

ABC San Diego’s construction apprenticeship and craft training programs are working to fill this shortage and federal workforce investment funding can be a great asset. ABC and its member companies provide quality training in these high-demand career fields. These hands-on training programs combine on-the-job learning with the most up-to-date curriculum. Once completed, students walk away with a credential that is industry-recognized, nationally portable and highly valuable to employers.

WIOA also eliminates language that previously limited access to certain federal training grants to firms associated with labor unions. This change now allows the 86 percent of construction industry that chooses to work with non-union employers the same access to federal grant money previously limited to union groups. By freeing up money for all industry-recognized job-training programs, this bill allows the maximum amount of trainees the access to programs they need in the growing green building and green technology industry.

WIOA also ensures that small-business owners, who create two-thirds of new jobs nationally, have a significant role in workforce development by serving on local workforce investment boards including in San Diego County. Small-business owners, including contractors, can put their firsthand knowledge of the construction industry and its needs to work to ensure that future employees learn the skills needed to fit the future needs of business and the local economy.

“With the shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry, our association supports all efforts to provide much-needed training to ensure that job seekers and incumbent workers will gain the skills needed for a rewarding career path,” said San Diego ABC President Scott Crosby.

WIOA helps 12 million people nationally to enter or re-enter the U.S. workforce by providing career counseling, skills assessments, financial assistance for job training and job matching. In San Diego, 900 people daily access resources through 13 America’s Job Center of California locations in San Diego County, 225,000 visits each year. More than 1,200 local employers work with the centers to meet their workforce needs.

ABC believes that effective, targeted and accessible workforce training programs will be crucial in preparing new workers for careers in construction and has been a vocal supporter of WIOA. Happily, the need for these programs is one of the few things everyone in Washington, D.C., can agree on this Labor Day.

Smyth is chief financial officer of Sherwood Mechanical and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego Apprenticeship Training Trust board of trustees.

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