In order to maintain American competitiveness, we must ensure that our 21st Century workforce includes the highly skilled and trained craftsmen and professionals that our economy requires.

Over the years, federal workforce training and workplace development programs have been added and existing programs have been modified in order to address spikes in unemployment.  While these changes were made with good intentions, they resulted in duplicative and unnavigable workforce training programs.

The President agrees.  During his 2012 State of the Union address, he committed to cutting through the maze of programs and creating “one program” so our job seekers can find the help they need to excel.

Last March, my colleagues and I acted by passing legislation to streamline job training programs and put Americans back to work.  The Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act (SKILLS Act) consolidates 35 duplicative federal job training programs, eliminates unnecessary bureaucracy, and ensures that job seekers have access to the job training they need immediately.

The job training programs are consolidated into a Workforce Investment Fund to fund Workforce Investment Board initiatives.  Currently, the criteria for federal funding for workforce development programs is so restrictive that local communities cannot use the funds to innovate and develop training programs to satisfy the needs of local businesses.

The Pee Dee Workforce Investment Board in my district – South Carolina’s Seventh Congressional District—would like to launch a QuickJobs program that would prepare job seekers for positions that do not require a two-year or four-year degree, such as construction jobs.  Unfortunately, the board cannot use their funding to start a QuickJobs program because their funding can only go towards two-year programs.  The SKILLS Act would give the board the flexibility they need to innovate, which could prove critical as the construction industry is expected by some to need over 2,000,000additional workers by 2018.

The SKILLS Act also changes regulations that require community and technical colleges to apply multiple times to be listed as eligible providers of federal workforce training.  The Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology (SiMT), located in Florence, SC, could benefit greatly from this change.

SiMT is a state-of-the-art facility specializing in programs that prepare job seekers for a variety of jobs in the Southeast that require special skill sets not commonly available at four year colleges or universities.  This large training facility offers students the opportunity to pursue industry-recognized and nationally portable certifications from NCCER in areas like welding and pipefitting as well as in various fabrication and heavy equipment occupations.  In addition, SiMT offers programs in cutting edge fields such as engineering CAD/CAM, 3D/virtual reality services, and rapid prototyping.

Employers are desperately searching for skilled craft professionals to build the 21st Century American landscape. Collaboration between the federal government, industry and state-of-the-art technical colleges like SiMT, would help job seekers obtain the training they need so our nation’s construction industry can expand and reach its full potential.

In today’s global market, businesses are developing new products and manufacturing techniques to stay ahead of the curve.  Our job training programs must evolve with businesses, and this evolution must include collaboration between the industries seeking employees and the education and training programs that will ensure these needs are filled.

The SKILLS Act’s Workforce Investment Fund would allow for our job training and readiness programs, like the credentials  offered at SiMT, to grow simultaneously with new business technologies so our workforce is the most developed and highly-skilled in the World.