4 Key Workforce and Education Policies to Advance US Competitiveness
As Congress works to reconcile and finalize legislation to improve US competitiveness with China, it should ensure that the final package prepares students and workers for jobs in critical fields. Both the Senate-passed United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), and the House-passed America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act recognize that the competitiveness of the American economy depends on the strength of the nation’s workforce.1
Each chamber’s China competitiveness legislation smartly included other proposed bills to increase the capacity of the nation’s education and workforce institutions to address gaps in the skills of students and workers in STEM and other high-demand fields. Congress should preserve this robust focus on career and workforce training, and any final China competitiveness legislation should make sure to include provisions from the following bills:
- The National Apprenticeship Act
- The Improving Minority Participation and Careers Telecommunications Act
- The College Transparency Act
- The TAA Modernization Act
The National Apprenticeship Act
Introduced in the House in February 2021 and included in the America COMPETES Act, the National Apprenticeship Act is a landmark piece of legislation designed to dramatically scale up the size and scope of the country’s registered apprenticeship system. Approximately 94% of apprentices who complete their training are employed soon after finishing their programs and earn an average annual salary of $70,000. By aiming to create nearly one million new apprenticeships, the bill would expand access to earn-and-learn training options for workers that don’t need a traditional two- or four-year degree, equipping workers with the skills and training necessary to thrive in growing and in-demand occupations.
Apprenticeships can play a critical role in our economic recovery and help people regain their footing in the job market, especially among industries and regions that have seen economic challenges. In order to dramatically expand the scale and reach of the apprenticeship system, the National Apprenticeship Act bolsters successful partnerships between apprenticeship and workforce programs, community colleges, the private sector, and others in the workforce and education ecosystem. The bill would also take strong steps to expand equity and diversity, working toward reducing both wage and occupational gaps within our workforce and expanding pipelines for and recruiting more women and people of color.
The Improving Minority Participation and Careers in Telecommunications Act
As part of the goal to strengthen the competitiveness of our economy, both the House and Senate bills feature a number of provisions that work toward expanding equity and diversity in the workforce. One of these key workforce training grant programs is the Improving Minority Participation and Careers in Telecommunications Act (IMPACT). Included in both the Senate and House bills, this legislation would authorize $100 million over six years to help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges and universities, and Minority Serving Institutions develop and expand job training programs that target women, people of color, and other historically underrepresented groups of workers.
Administered by the Departments of Labor and Education, and in coordination with the Commerce Department’s Director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives, the bill would increase the capacity and resources of educational institutions through programs and grants for the telecommunications workforce. These programs would include partnerships with industry stakeholders to promote credential attainment, expand the registered apprenticeship model, and provide valuable skills training opportunities for new and incumbent workers.
This and other similar provisions would increase the size and diversity of the workforce in critical sectors important to the country’s national security and economic competitiveness. Along with increasing racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, these provisions would also increase the geographic diversity of key sectors and the broader workforce equitably among both urban and rural regions.
The College Transparency Act
The College Transparency Act (CTA), which is included in the America COMPETES Act, will address major blind spots in the available data on higher education by reversing the current federal ban on student-level data collection. This will allow for the creation of a user-friendly, privacy-protected data system that students can use to compare completion rates, employment outcomes, and post-college earnings data across education and training programs and identify those that will best equip them with the skills they need to enter or reenter the workforce.
As unemployed and underemployed workers seek to build in-demand skills that will help them earn a stable living in the post-pandemic economy, CTA will provide them with actionable data points to understand what their job prospects and earnings potential will look like if they enroll in a given program at a given college or university—before they invest their time and money to attend. CTA will also unlock valuable information on the schools and programs that are producing graduates with specific training for employers looking to build a pipeline of diverse, high-quality talent to fuel their workforce.
CTA passed the House on a 239-193 vote in an amendment to the America COMPETES Act—even more bipartisan support than the comprehensive bill itself. This commonsense legislation has bicameral backing from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and has been endorsed by over 160 organizations, including student advocates and workforce and community development groups.
The TAA Modernization Act
The America COMPETES Act also included the TAA Modernization Act, which will reauthorize the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Community Colleges and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program at quadruple its previous amount of funding—building on the proven success of the earlier program and injecting it with $9 billion over seven years to support today’s workers.
TAACCCT was originally established after the Great Recession to help workers—especially those who had lost their jobs because of the economic downturn—connect to the postsecondary training opportunities they needed to reenter the workforce in high-demand fields. The grant program was administered by the Department of Labor in conjunction with the Department of Education and made an unprecedented investment in the nation’s chronically underfunded community college sector: From 2011 to 2018, all 50 states received funding through TAACCCT, totaling nearly $2 billion for over 250 grants that fueled community colleges to create or redesign 2,700 programs leading to credentials in manufacturing, health care, transportation, energy, IT, and other areas of study aligned with local and regional labor market needs.
Roughly half a million community college students enrolled in TAACCCT programs, earning over 350,000 credentials. In addition to a robust acronym, TAACCCT boasts a robust track record of effectiveness backed up by several national evaluations. Reauthorizing the evidence-based TAACCCT program will give community colleges much-needed resources to bolster career training opportunities for underserved populations and invest in student success—at least 15% of each institutional grant will fund critical supportive services like transportation, childcare, mental health services, career coaching, and direct financial aid to help students and workers complete their credentials and find good jobs.
The four outlined provisions are smart policy approaches to strengthening the US education and workforce systems to promote competitiveness at home and abroad, and Congress should maintain them as they negotiate the final bill. Through investing in the capacity of schools to offer more classes in technical fields, increasing the availability of low-cost pathways into college STEM education and training, and expanding the size and diversity of our workforce through grant programs and registered apprenticeships, these key components will take meaningful steps to increase our economic competitiveness and security.
While senators indicate that the name of USICA has been changed to the Make it in America Act, that legislation has not yet been released and so we refer to the Senate bill as passed on June 8, 2021.