Workforce development, traditionally addressed by the federal and local government, has become a significant issue for state legislative action. Too many people are unemployed, and U.S. employers are frustrated with the lack of unqualified job applicants and employees whose skills sets are outdated.
Legislators are in the middle of developing public policy strategies that can increase the odds of success for businesses and workers. The biggest challenges include figuring out what types of jobs are needed to meet demand, developing relevant education and training programs, and clarifying the role for different state agencies and other levels of government.
New laws in Kentucky, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Vermont require the state to conduct a needs assessment to target industry and training needs to fill the gaps in workforce programs already in place. Kentucky will collect workforce and education data, starting with an individual’s participation in early childhood education to their employment. Tennessee requires the Higher Education Commission and the Department of Labor to produce an annual report on workforce needs and credential production. Comprehensive legislation in Rhode Island goes further by establishing a new council of economic advisors to conduct policy analysis and provide recommendations on the strategic economic development plan for the state.
Legislatures in five states added training courses for high school students. The Indiana Works Councils are to design alternative career, technical, or vocational educational curriculums for high school students to receive opportunities to pursue well-paid available jobs through internships, certifications or earning an associate’s degree. Virginia will establish partnerships between high schools and local businesses to prepare students for real world jobs. Similar legislation passed in Texas. Rhode Island will permit students 16 and older to participate in pre-apprenticeship programs. Tennessee directs the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to provide recommendations to the State Board of Education to develop a lower-cost alternative certification comparable to the GED.
Three states—Connecticut, New Jersey and Virginia—enacted new laws to train veterans. Connecticut eliminated the requirement that all veterans must serve in a combat zone to participate in the Unemployed Armed Forces Subsidized Training and Employment Program. The program provides a 180-day subsidy to eligible businesses for part of the cost of on-the-job training and compensation. New Jersey’s “Helmets to Hardhats” pilot program is aimed at helping vets find jobs in the construction industry. The Virginia Department of Veterans will develop a program to reduce unemployment among veterans by matching them with businesses.
Other states are supporting job training efforts conducted by businesses. Connecticut increased the manufacturing apprenticeship tax credit. Indiana will support new or expanding businesses to train and upgrade the skills of existing workers. Missouri passed similar legislation and created a “New Jobs Tax Credit”.
Maryland established a significant public/private program that calls on employers, nonprofits and higher education to partner and identify the industry areas in need of skilled workers. A $4.5 million appropriation accompanied the bill to provide grants to these partnerships to develop and administer programs that provide workforce, job readiness and skill training in the industry areas they identify as lacking qualified workers. Wisconsin appropriated a whopping $15 million over two years for a similar program. Visit Maryland and Wisconsin’s program websites for more information.
Additional legislation was passed in Indiana to revamp the state higher education system’s work study program for students who receive a state award, regardless of what institution they attend, to participate in internships that emphasize job readiness. Nebraska will provide reimbursements for job training and hiring interns and Louisiana strengthened their welfare to work program. The new “Back to Work Rhode Island” program focuses on job training and placement for the unemployed.
CT S 927: Eliminates the requirement that all veterans must serve in a combat zone to participate in the Unemployed Armed Forces Subsidized Training and Employment program. The program provides 180-day subsidy to eligible businesses to cover part of the cost of on-the-job training and compensation for an unemployed veteran. The veteran must have been honorably discharged after at least 90 days of service.
CT S 1079: Increases the manufacturing apprenticeship tax credit from $4,800 to $7,500 per income year.
IN H 1170: Expands training assistance under the Training 2000 program to provide assistance to new or expanding businesses for the training, retraining or skill upgrading of potential or current employees required to support existing capital investments. Previous law restricted program training assistance to potential employees of new or expanding business and to the retraining and upgrading of skills required to support new capital investment.
IN H 1312: Revamps the existing state work-study program into the Employment Aid Readiness Network (EARN) Indiana Program to allow for-profit business to serve as internship sites for students receiving financial assistance from the state, no matter what institution they attend. Employers must offer experiential learning, mentoring and networking opportunities and will receive a 50 percent match in state matching funds to compensate these students.
IN S 465: Establishes regional Indiana Works Councils to assess and develop alternative career, technical, or vocational educational curriculums for high school students that will create opportunities to attain high wage, high demand jobs through internships, certifications or earning an associate’s degree.
KY S 83: Establishes the Office for Education and Workforce Statistics which will collect data on education and the workforce systems both state and nationwide. The data collected will be used to guide policy regarding educational and training opportunities in the state.
LA H 525: Revises TANF work requirements by developing and implementing a Strategies to Empower People (STEP) Program that would provide on-the-job training, skill based training, job preparation, and temporary or permanent job placement.
MD H 227/S 278: Establishes the Maryland Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) Program which will grant funds to "strategic industry partnerships," composed of employers, nonprofits and higher education representatives, to identify the need for high demand jobs and to administer workforce, job readiness and skills training in those industry areas lacking qualified workers.
MN H 729: Makes appropriations to workforce development programs for 2014-2015. Funding was granted to technical colleges, youth and adult workforce development programs, as well as programs to provide progressive development and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and programs focusing on STEM career training.
MO H 196: Requires the Department of Economic Development to establish the Missouri Works Training Program. The program will provide funding and assist qualified companies in training employees in new jobs and the retraining or upgrading skills of full-time employees. The bill also establishes a joint legislative oversight committee, a New Jobs Tax Credit and several funds to bolster education and training efforts pertaining to the program.
NE L 476: Creates the Job Training Cash Fund to provide reimbursements for job training activities, employee retraining, and grants to businesses for hiring interns.
NJ S 1415: Establishes the "Helmets to Hardhats" pilot program, administered by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which will aid veterans in finding employment in the construction industry.
NV S 305: Allows students who are 16 or older and complete a 60-hour internship to apply one credit to the elective credits required to graduate from high school.
OR S 782: Creates the Task Force on Apprenticeship to evaluate the impact of the apprenticeship utilization standard which requires that public projects allot a certain amount of work hours to apprenticeships. The task force will also determine whether or not work hours can be expanded.
RI H 6062: Allows students 16 and older to participate in a pre-apprenticeship or internship program with a work permit.
RI H 6070:Establishes a new council of economic advisors which will gather data and information on Rhode Island’s economy.
RI S 402: Establishes the Back to Work Rhode Island Program, which will place individuals receiving unemployment benefits with employers who will provide up to six weeks of skill enhancement and job training. Upon completion of the program, the individual would be considered for hire by the employer. Compensation would not be provided other than job training.
TN H 566/S 618: Requires the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, in consultation with the Department of Labor, to produce an annual report regarding state workforce need projections and credential production.
TN S 105/H 387: Directs the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to make recommendations to the State Board of Education to design an alternative high school equivalency assessment comparable to the GED.
TX H 842: Creates a college credit program that allows career and technical education students to earn credit for a course or activity, including apprenticeships or training, toward their diploma, or fulfills a postsecondary academic requirement necessary to obtain an industry-recognized credential, certificate, or an associate degree.
VA H 1906/S 829: The Department of Veteran Affairs will establish a program to reduce unemployment among veterans by assisting businesses to attract, hire, train, and retain veterans. The program will administer a workforce assessment, training program and a certification process for employers with the objective of setting measurable goals for hiring and retaining veterans.
VA H 2101/S 1248: Directs the Board of Education to develop guidelines for the establishment of High School to Work Partnerships between public high schools and local businesses to create apprenticeships, internships, and job shadow programs for students.
VT S 155: Creates a Workforce Development Work Group to conduct an inventory of existing workforce development and education programs in the state. The work group will compile information on the efficacy, funding and outcomes of programs, identify areas of duplication, outcomes, and will assess their alignment with statewide workforce needs.
WI A 14: Appropriates $15 million ($7.5 over two years) to be granted to public and private organizations developing workforce training programs.
Sources: NCSL and StateNet, 2013.