Elected officials begin eyeing workforce challenges

Conversations among senators, agency budget requests, and a plethora of proposed federal and state legislation, all point to increased emphasis on addressing workforce development as the U.S. continues to recover from challenges that stem from the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Bloomberg, “What has been eagerly dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’ has hastened a demographic squeeze that was the inevitable consequence of the retirement of the baby boomers and the decline in the birthrate.” The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that annual net immigration has declined by about two-thirds since 2010. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that America currently has 11.3 million job openings, but only 6 million unemployed workers.

One solution is to bring in more foreign workers. Another is to train/retrain those in the U.S. and entice them to engage in the workforce. Although nothing has been finalized, several encouraging efforts are underway.

  • Senate Judiciary Chair Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) recently met with Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) to discuss an immigration bill that could garner the needed 60 votes. The group intends to meet regularly. “We never fail to fail when it comes to immigration,” Cornyn said. “I’m hoping this time is different.”
  • The House Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act would establish a new nonimmigrant visa for temporary, nonagricultural workers to fill jobs that have remained open for a certain amount of time and are located in an area where the unemployment rate is 7.9 percent or less. This visa would only be available for certain occupations; those requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education would not be eligible.
  • The House Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2022, introduced in late March, would reauthorize the U.S. workforce development system that expired in 2020. The act is part of ongoing efforts to ensure that more workers, particularly those from historically underrepresented communities, can access high-quality employment.
  • The House Workforce Development Investment Act of 2022 would authorize tax credits for employers partnering with qualified educational institutions to improve workforce development. It also would cover certain job training program expenses.
  • Workforce development bills also are under consideration in several states, including Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia.
  • Finally, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) requested $303 in the FY23 budget to expand registered apprenticeship opportunities for historically underrepresented groups, $100 million to build the capacity of community colleges to deliver high-quality training for in-demand jobs, and $100 million for a new sector-based training program focused on preparing underserved and underrepresented workers for employment in growing industries.