Rep. Bobby Scott
CHAIR OF THE EDUCATION AND LABOR COMMITTEE
“All of the jobs of the future will require some education and training past the high school level, so we need to make sure that those opportunities are there.”
Leaders in the public and private sectors have been trying to plan the future of America’s workforce for decades. Covid-19 certainly complicated matters.
The pandemic upended entire industries’ meticulous planning for the future of their workplaces. Employees were thrust into juggling work while at the same time acting as full-time caregivers for parents and children. Hundreds of thousands of employees in the retail and service industries were laid off as companies were forced to shut their doors.
As the United States emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, we are going through the most severe worker shortage on record. Despite the end of federal jobless programs, businesses across the country have struggled to rehire or find employees.
Big questions have arisen: Where can workers be found? Will they ever show up? What can be done to entice employees to come back? The recent surge in Covid-19 infections due to the Delta variant and breakthrough cases among the vaccinated have only added to the concerns about how long it will take companies to recover.
Enter: The Workforce. Punchbowl News’ effort to identify four leaders who are focused on leading the country back to economic stability and ensuring that there is a well-prepared workforce that will allow America to remain competitive.
Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott has been focused on workforce issues for decades. Scott, who grew up in Newport News, Va., first focused on labor issues as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Throughout his tenure in the Virginia legislature, Scott pushed for a higher minimum wage and for increased job training. One of his signature accomplishments included creating the Virginia Governor’s Employment and Training Council, which focuses on improving health care for women and children.
A longtime progressive, Scott serves as the dean of the Virginia congressional delegation. He also holds an annual Labor Day picnic in Newport News, a key campaign stop for state and federal candidates in Virginia.
Creating jobs and job training have been two of his biggest focuses since he entered public office. “When I was in the state senate, two-thirds of the jobs required education past the high school level. That does not necessarily mean a four-year liberal arts degree, but it does mean some educational training past the high school level,” Scott said.
Since getting elected to Congress in 1992, Scott has continued to focus on these issues. In 2010, he co-sponsored legislation with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to make it easier for Americans who had exhausted their unemployment benefits to continue to receive benefits. His focus on education has also remained. Scott was a leader in the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Obama-era law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, and he also has worked to reform and update the country’s technical education system.
Like all Democrats on Capitol Hill, Scott has been focused on implementing President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure and reconciliation packages. One key area Scott hopes will remain in the reconciliation bill is training opportunities for apprenticeships in sectors like shipbuilding. He also noted that the legislation would help ensure there are workers who have the necessary skills to not only manufacture but also repair electric cars, a critical area of technical training the industry will need as America transitions toward a green economy. Scott also introduced a bill in January — Relaunching America’s Workforce Act — that included billions in spending for career training programs for unemployed adults and students.
“Congress' biggest challenge right now is to fund workforce development."
– Rep. Bobby Scott, Chair of the Education and Labor Committee
For Scott, it’s key to ensure these workforce priorities are funded. One of the “major factors right now is appropriate funding” for workforce boards. Scott noted that job training programs can only accommodate about one-third of the people who come to them due to lack of money. Scott also said these programs need to be designed with an eye on the future. “Making sure that we’re training people in the jobs that will actually exist in a year, five years, 10 and 20 years in the future will be one of the major factors that we need to consider,” he said.
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PEOPLE TO WATCH
AFL-CIO chief economist
Spriggs serves as the chief economist to the AFL-CIO. A former chair of Howard University’s economics department, Spriggs chairs the Economic Policy Working Group for the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization for the Economic Co-operation and Development. Spriggs also serves on the board of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He has recently written pieces on Black unemployment being as important as white unemployment and how unions are spurring changes in worker conditions.
president of the Service Employees International Union
Mary Kay Henry
Henry is the first woman president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents two million members in the service industry. During her time at SEIU, Henry has focused on improving jobs for workers in the health care, property services and public sectors. She has also backed workers in the fast-food industry for their “Fight for $15 and a Union” movement. Throughout the pandemic, Henry has pushed for caregivers to qualify as essential workers. Over the summer, SEIU organized forums for six weeks in nearly two dozen states to lobby members of Congress to back President Joe Biden’s significant increase in spending to support home care workers.
CEO OF NATIONAL SKILLS COALITION
Andy Van Kleunen
Van Kleunen is the CEO of the National Skills Coalition, a group he founded in 2000 along with leaders from the workforce development and nonprofit sectors. Van Kleunen works across federal and state operations as a nonpartisan advisor on workforce and education policy issues. Van Kleunen has been a strong advocate for President Joe Biden’s call for the $100 billion investment in workforce training. He believes the funding is an important element to make sure that workers of color and low-wage workers aren’t left behind as the economy reopens.
While advocates like Scott have worked for decades on how to better equip the next generation for the labor market, the Virginia Democrat knows it’s hard to predict exactly what is going to be needed in the future and convince the federal government and private sector to invest.
"You don't really see the benefits of a good job training program until after you've recruited the trainees and after they've completed their training and gotten on the workforce. That could be a year or two down the line,” Scott said. “But if you don't make those investments, people are wondering why we can't find those skilled workers and that's because we didn't make the investments in workforce development that we needed to make in a timely fashion."
One of the thorny issues that persists coming out of the pandemic is the inability of finding workers to take good-paying jobs. “With all of the talk of low-paying jobs, the difficulty getting people just the minimum skills to get on track for jobs that pay well above the median has been a surprising challenge,” Scott said.
But finding the money to help train workers for the future is critical, Scott said. “Within the job training arena, getting ready for the next generation, making sure we have sufficient funding so that people will be prepared for the jobs of the future will be a challenge,” Scott said.
Career and Training Services Provided under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2019
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