Economy needs skilled workers

Published 4:10 pm Tuesday, July 15, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

From Brewton to Monroeville and Grove Hill to Loxley, I often talk to Alabamians who simply want to find a good paying job, but they don’t know where to turn. I believe a priority of Congress should be to support programs that help connect Americans with jobs.

A great way to do that is through workforce development services, like one-stop career shops, community colleges, and state workforce development boards. Unfortunately, today’s workforce investment system is a maze of federal programs, some of which are ineffective and costly.

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This is an issue that is personal to me. During my time as Chancellor of Alabama’s Two-Year College System, I worked closely with educators and businesses across the state to help improve our workforce training programs. As Chancellor, I also served as Chairman of the State Workforce Development Council, where I made reforming our state’s workforce training programs a top priority.

Last week, the House passed the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act, commonly known as the SKILLS Act. The SKILLS Act finally brings much needed reforms to the federal workforce investment system by streamlining confusing programs and eliminating many burdensome federal mandates.

The SKILLS Act makes much needed reforms without growing the influence of the federal government. The bill repeals 15 ineffective workforce development programs and prevents the creation of new federal programs. Accountability measures are also strengthened by preventing funds from being used for political lobbying and requiring independent evaluations of programs.

Most importantly, the SKILLS Act gives more control to workforce investment boards at the state and local level, as they are the ones who know an area’s workforce needs the best. From my prior experience at the state level, I know this will be a welcomed reform.

The SKILLS Act represents a rare breakthrough in Washington, as the legislation has passed both the House and the Senate and now awaits President Obama’s signature. At a time when most Americans, including myself, doubt that Washington can get much done, the SKILLS Act shows that Republicans and Democrats can still come together to help put Americans back to work.

The SKILLS Act can be just the kick start we need. Over 200 other House-passed bills await action in Harry Reid’s Senate. This includes commonsense bills that would rollback costly federal regulations, ease the burden of ObamaCare, and end senseless prohibitions on energy production.