This week the U.S. Senate held its first hearing on workforce development in years. The HELP Committee hearing
gave a glimpse of where Congress might be headed amid a flurry of trillion-dollar stimulus and jobs proposals from the Biden administration.
It’s a safe bet that the committee, which has long focused on colleges in its action on postsecondary education and training, will spend more energy (and money) on apprenticeships and other non-traditional pathways to jobs.
The Congressional interest reflects shifts in how people prepare for the job market and move through their careers
. Before the pandemic, those changes were probably coming in 7-10 years, says Maria Flynn
, the CEO of JFF and previously a long-time veteran of the U.S Department of Labor. But that time horizon has shrunk to 2-3 years, predicts Flynn, who testified at the Tuesday hearing.
Flynn said in an interview that the goal of her testimony—and the hearing itself—was to take a broad view of the big issues on the table: free college, student loan cancellation, reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), apprenticeships, Pell Grants, and more.
“How can we tie these conversations together?” Flynn says.
In her written testimony
, Flynn called for the creation of a “modern, agile, equitable, resilient, and innovative” workforce development system. And even before the pandemic and recession, the U.S. workforce system was overdue for increased investments and transformation. But she said the COVID-19 crisis “exponentially increased this need for change.”
Among Flynn’s specific asks were:
- Increased funding for WIOA training programs.
- Pell Grant eligibility for high-quality, short-term programs.
- Exploration of alternative financing such as income-share agreements.
- Investment in the creation of a high-quality career navigation system.
- Adoption of lifelong learning accounts for education and training.
Some of Flynn’s recommendations overlap with the findings
from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released this week. The report was based on an expert roundtable the GAO conducted on options to better serve millions of workers who are experiencing economic disruption.
The group called for creating lifelong learning accounts, prompting employers to develop apprenticeship programs, and providing universal assistance for all workers who lost jobs due to mass layoffs, trade policy changes, or other economic disruptions.
The GAO report
also said workforce agencies and community colleges tend to lack the training and capacity to support high-quality counseling and career guidance.
“It remains to be seen how a proposal around lifelong learning accounts would fit into other pressing federal business, but there seems to be a strong and growing consensus around the need to make financing for periodic reskilling more affordable,” Flynn says. “And we have the policy vehicles in place to make those changes through changes to WIOA, Section 127, and policies in the federal tax code that could provide tax-advantaged status for individuals who save for or invest in lifelong learning.”