Q&A with Sen. Doug Jones: Workforce Development

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) recently sat down with the Huntsville Business Journal and discussed several issues important to our state and nation.  This is the first installment of five reports from the interview. Today’s topic is Workforce Development.

As a strong proponent of workforce development initiatives, Sen. Doug Jones introduced the Working On Rewarding and Keeping Employees Resilient (WORKER) and the Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce Acts.

Sen. Jones: “… some jobs are going to be eliminated, but it will also give us opportunities.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

The legislation was designed to increase federal investments in workforce development and training to help prepare workers for the jobs of the future and to promote education and training for workers in high-demand industries, along with the expansion of registered apprentice programs.

The WORKER Act would:

  • Expand programs in engineering at elementary and secondary schools by awarding grants to local educational agencies to support, develop, and implement formal and informal engineering education programs in elementary and secondary schools;
  • Expand programs in maker education at schools to teach hands-on skills in design and manufacturing by amending the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to allow funding for “maker education,” “makerspaces,” and training for teachers;
  • Expand promotion of registered apprentice programs by the Department of Labor, including outreach to underrepresented populations, young people, and veterans;
  • Promote collaboration with post-secondary institutions to promote apprenticeships, including allowing academic credit for apprenticeship programs;
  • Coordinate unemployment programs with career counseling, job search assistance, training assistance, and income support services to better support unemployed workers in finding a job;
  • Create a Training Voucher program to support dislocated workers completing short term training in in-demand industry sectors; and,
  • Create a stipend for dislocated workers to ensure their transportation and child care costs can be covered while they retrain for new jobs.

The Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act would:

  • Create a grant program through the Department of Labor to support industry or sector partnerships in developing and carrying out training programs for workers who are, or are likely to become, dislocated because of advances in technology, including automation.
  • Increase funding for National Dislocated Worker Grants and amend the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to ensure workers who are dislocated by automation are included in WIOA programs.
  • Direct the GAO to conduct a study of the barriers to providing, and opportunities for improving, training for workers in industries that are most likely to be impacted by automation.

These two key pieces of legislation were developed to help ensure that employees throughout Alabama and the nation are prepared for and have access to well-paid skilled jobs and have the skills that they need to successfully navigate the transition that will result from advances in automation and technology.

HBJ: Can you tell us about the Tomorrow’s Workforce and WORKER acts?

Sen. Jones: “… if we want to continue to attract industry to this state, we’re going to need a trained workforce.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

Jones: There are a lot of things that we’re doing that reflect what I believe, are meeting some of the more pressing needs in Alabama. We’ve got low unemployment, which is great; but, at the same time, if we want to continue to attract industry to this state, we’re going to need a trained workforce.

We’re also seeing that automation is going to continue at the pace – if not a quicker pace, than we’ve seen. That’s going to mean that some jobs are going to be eliminated, but it will also give us opportunities.

The work that we’re doing with both career-technical advances as well as the Tomorrow’s Workforce and WORKER bills are going to do things to plan for that: to get people trained, to see what niches can be filled with workforce development, whether that’s through a four-year college, a two-year college, or some type of apprenticeship or certification program.

I’m really big on apprenticeships. I’d like to see more public-private type partnerships; companies going into the schools.

We’re looking at a little bit of red tape to cut out, first. The Department of Labor requires a lot, so we’re looking at that.

That’s the gist of what those bills are going to be doing. To make sure that we’ve got the 21st century workforce for the companies that will be coming as automation takes over.

HBJ: What about dislocated workers?

Jones: It’s going to be an issue for everybody; it’s going to be an issue for Alabama.

We’re moving in a way to help make sure that our infrastructure and our jobs save this planet. That’s going to transition away from some things into new forms of energy.

There are a lot of opportunities there, but you’ve got to be able to transition. You can’t just flip a switch and cut off fossil fuels. What we’re seeing is that more and more companies are now coming to the table to talk about that.

We’ve got issues down in Gadsden right now, where a number of workers are going to be laid off from the Goodyear plant, which is likely to close. We need to get them over to Gadsden State or some other places to let them learn new skills and new trades because they’re still of working age.

Some of those workers will be displaced workers in the sense that their jobs may get phased out. They are still employable; they have families and they’re going to want to work.

We’ve got to do the training and education that will help with that. Our two-year college system is primed to do that.”

(Tomorrow: Sen. Jones discusses the state of health care and efforts to help improve it)