As the demographics of the American workforce change, job training programs are adapting with them.
Training programs, which include apprenticeships, internships and certification programs, increasingly provide workers with specific skills they need to work in high-demand, well-paying occupations.
No longer are these programs only for hands-on skilled trades, which used to be dominated by white men. States are pursuing a variety of approaches to broaden job training programs to new sectors and make them more inclusive of populations that may have been overlooked in the past, including women, people of color, individuals with disabilities, veterans and others.
The disproportionate impacts of the current recession on women and people of color in the United States are well documented as we enter month 12 of the pandemic. While always popular, job training legislation is seeing renewed urgency this year as states consider the role training and re-training workers for skilled, high-demand positions can play in assisting with the broader economic recovery and in providing career pathways for those hit hardest by pandemic-related job losses.
Diversifying the Workforce
Sector-specific initiatives that increase access to job training for historically underrepresented groups is one emerging approach this year. With these policies, states are attempting to connect the dots between economic recovery and diversifying the workforce in high-demand occupations in health care and renewable energy.
To diversify its health care sector, Illinois passed legislation establishing the Diversity in Health Care Professions Task Force in 2019. The legislation requires the task force to work with policymakers to design programs and recruitment activities that support and advocate for a “full spectrum of diversity” across race, ethnicity, culture, language and religion. Other states are looking at similar solutions this year to help with today’s challenges. California and New Jersey are both currently considering job training bills for the health sector.
In California, SB 40 would create the California Medicine Scholars Pilot Program to help community college students pursue premedical training and enter medical school. The bill aims to both address the state’s shortage of primary care physicians and decrease disparities in health care by training workers in underserved communities.
Across the country in New Jersey, lawmakers are considering AB 5036, which would establish the Long-term Care Workforce Development program to increase the number of workers qualified to hold long-term care positions in the state. The program would prioritize access to training for underrepresented groups, including, but not limited to, ethnic minorities, women, veterans and socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Boosting Clean Energy
Lawmakers are also debating bills that would help workers gain skills needed in clean energy jobs. In Maryland, for example, the Coal Community Transition Act would establish a special, non-lapsing fund to support the state’s transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy. Half the fund would be allocated to worker training and related assistance, including a variety of apprenticeship programs and worker retraining programs at historically black colleges and universities. In Illinois, lawmakers are considering a sweeping piece of legislation that would establish a number of programs to increase the clean energy workforce in the state. The bill’s stated goals are to expand clean energy entrepreneurship and to ensure that job training programs in the sector serve indigenous residents and people of color as well as people with criminal histories who are returning to the workforce.
More traditional apprenticeship and job training fields are still a part of this conversation too. In Oregon, legislators are considering a bill that would require subcontractors working on state public improvement contracts to make “good-faith efforts” to encourage minority individuals, women, service-disabled veterans and others to become apprentices. The bill describes these good-faith efforts as advertising apprenticeship opportunities in places that serve audiences primarily consisting of these groups; providing written notice of apprenticeship opportunities in the area where the construction will occur; and partnering with community organizations to assist individuals in signing up for apprenticeships. New Jersey are considering a similar bill relating to the state’s construction industry.
As states rebuild their economies this year, many are turning to job training as one solution to get workers back into skilled, well-paying jobs in high-demand sectors. In response to this recession’s disproportionate impact on women and workers of color, policymakers are paying special attention to measures related to diversity and inclusion in job training legislation.
Iris Hentze is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.