COVID-19 and its numerous variants continued to affect the United States and the world throughout 2021. The pandemic has fundamentally altered the relationship between workers, employers and jobs. Legislatures acknowledged these changes and have focused on workforce development as a tool to build resilient state economies.
In reviewing enactments from across the nation, NCSL identified five key workforce development themes from the past year:
Workforce Development and Higher Education
Similar to 2020, a key trend in workforce development was the collaboration between higher education and workforce development programs. One example is Tennessee’s House Bill 763. This legislation requires the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to create a report, in conjunction with the other state departments, that estimates the state’s workforce needs and the projected credentials awarded that will meet those needs. Another notable bill is Georgia’s Senate Bill 81, which requires collaboration between the Technical College System and the Workforce Development Board to recruit new industries as well as expand existing industries through technical preparation and education for high school students.
Maine passed Senate Bill 490, which establishes the Maine Workforce, Research, Development and Student Achievement Institute. The institute is a collaboration between the state and public universities and is designed to help the legislature learn about student and workforce needs. The institute will also provide policy recommendations focused on workforce needs and development.
Other notable legislation includes:
- CA AB 927: Allows all community colleges in the state to offer bachelor’s degrees.
- DE SB 12: Expands grants given by the Delaware Student Excellence Equals Degree Act to adult students to help promote post-secondary degrees and to solidify the Delaware workforce in the wake of COVID 19.
- GA SB 204: Permits the Technical College System of Georgia to award high school diplomas after the completion of a program.
- ME HB 378: Allows public-private partnerships between business and higher education programs to promote education and employment opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.
- WA SB 5401: Allows community and technical colleges to administer bachelor programs in computer science.
Underserved and Minority Populations
Notably, numerous pieces of legislation were enacted to promote opportunities for the underserved, underprivileged and racial and ethnic minorities. California led the way with five enactments, one of which is Assembly Bill 680, also known as the California Jobs Plan Act of 2021. This legislation promotes public-private partnerships and grants that would focus on workforce development for under-resourced, tribal, and low-income communities.
Illinois passed House Bill 3950 which helps students with disabilities transition to independent living. Among the resources given to these individuals includes post-secondary instruction such as Career and Technical Education and Vocational Education.
Other Notable Legislation:
- CA AB 628: Changes the state’s “Breaking Barriers to Employment” initiative to target racial and ethnic minorities. The goal is to create pipelines to quality jobs, upward mobility and income security.
- NJ SCR 53: Creates a commission on reentry for women into the workforce and society after prison.
- IL HR 107: Encourages businesses to provide pre-training centers to underserved communities throughout the state.
Apprenticeships have been a hot topic for years in state governments. As an investment in a four-year degree has become increasingly costly, many states have been pushing students and youth to pursue apprenticeship opportunities. This trend continued throughout 2021.
Delaware’s promotion of apprenticeship included passing House Bill 166, which establishes the Elevate Delaware Program. The goal is to provide payments of up to $10,000 for tuition and other expenses for individuals to attend an approved non-credit certificate program. Delaware also established the Focus on Alternative Skills Training Program which pays tuition for students seeking a non-degree credit certificate program that provides industry-accepted skills training and certification.
Tennessee also jumped into the apprenticeship ring through House Bill 771, which creates the Office of Apprenticeship and the Tennessee Apprenticeship Council. The office is tasked with creating a nationally recognized apprenticeship program in Tennessee while the Apprenticeship Council advises the office and promotes apprenticeships throughout the state.
Other notable legislation:
- CA AB 340: Allows loans for registered apprenticeships to be tax-deductible.
- NJ SB 973: Establishes a peer-to-peer statewide apprenticeship mentoring program for underrepresented communities, such as women, minorities and those with disabilities.
- IA HF 559: Allows business sponsors of apprenticeship programs to receive financial assistance if they meet certain conditions.
Emerging Technology and Green Initiatives
One way workforce development has expanded in recent years is through the growth in emerging technologies, including those designed to be clean alternatives to existing technology. Georgia has focused on employing people in emerging industries. House Bill 762 creates the Fulton Technology and Energy Enhancement Authority with the goal of helping alleviate poverty in Fulton County, in part through the creation of jobs in nontraditional trades such as technology and energy.
Hawaii is also pushing people into these new areas. House Bill 1176 creates a jobs corps program through funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. This program aims to ease unemployment in the aftermath of the pandemic as well as teach new skills to the youth and unemployed.
Other Notable Legislation:
- IL SB 2408: Appropriates money to their energy transition fund. Some of this money goes toward pre-apprenticeship and workforce development programs geared towards the transition to clean energy.
- WA SB 5126: Provides support for workers affected by the switch to low carbon systems and technology.
Education, childcare, and health care were among the industries hardest hit by the pandemic. To ease workforce shortages and create employment opportunities, lawmakers introduced or passed legislation to address some of these industries specifically
Some states appropriated millions of dollars for workforce development. Through Senate Bill 3990, New Jersey appropriated $15.5 million of ARPA funds to workforce development for childcare workers. Other states, like Oklahoma and Rhode Island, appropriated funds to workforce development for nurses.
Other notable bills:
- NE L 324: Provides funding for workforce development for meat inspectors.
- MN HB 2: Education Omnibus Bill that includes an evidence-based workforce development program for teachers.
- TN SB 677: Creates a taskforce relating to all issues in childcare, including workforce development.