Mar 5, 2006

Bush would gut workforce training budget

I have been working almost two years to advance a program where SME chapters would link members – especially owners/managers of small manufacturing companies – to Federal and state funds they can use to train their employees in lean practices. (Sorry, Joe – Indiana is not among the states that help employers much.)

I didn’t watch our President’s State of the Union address this year. I avoided it because just the sight of the man infuriates me, and his speeches are even worse. He seems unable to even comprehend the statements his handlers have written, and they are ruthless power-drunk criminals. (Any confusion left about my personal politics?)

This week I discovered that the Bush administration’s 2007 Department of Labor’s budgets pulls the rug out from under us. In that State of the Union address January 31, President Bush talked about some wonderful Career Advancement Accounts that would provide funds for individuals to seek training to improve their skills. He said they would be self-managed and provide up to $3,000 to workers and job-seekers to pay for training and other employment services. That sounds attractive, especially if people face plant closings or other threats to employment.

What he didn’t say was that the money would come from the Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act program that currently funnels training funds to companies for workforce training. WIA funds are awarded at the community level, through local service points that understand business conditions and the needs of employers. Local community colleges frequently deliver the training. The philosophy is to make companies more competitive so they can keep or expand jobs in the community.

The implications of the redirection are the cause of hot discussion at state and local levels. In Albany, NY, reported Eric Anderson in the March 3 issue of the Times Union, local workforce investment boards are bracing for deep cuts. The Capital Region Workforce Investment Board serves Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties. "We're sitting here shell-shocked," said Daniel A. Gentile, the local board's executive director. "We need to buckle down and say ... where can we economize?”

Gentile told Anderson he questioned how effective the Career Advancement Account proposal would be. "It doesn't address the work force needs in the Capital Region," he said. Gentile told Anderson he would meet colleagues at other workforce investment boards to discuss the planned cutbacks. Officials are also working with congressional representatives, according to Anderson.

"It's ironic. The President talks about global competitiveness, then they cut funding," John Twomey told Anderson. Twomey is executive director of the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals, an Albany-based advocacy group representing local workforce investment boards and related groups statewide.

Far from Albany, an op-ed column in the March 1 Ocala Star-Banner (FL) was headlined, “Let's not cut jobs we can use.” The CLM Workforce Connection, serving four Florida counties, would have its budget cut by almost $700 million, according to the article. Of the state’s grants going to workforce services, 75% will be mandated to go into the Career Advancement Accounts, taking away a great deal of the flexibility needed to respond to local conditions.

The newspaper said CLM Workforce Connection's Executive Vice President Rusty Skinner sent an e-mail to supporters volunteering to testify before Congress to save the program. Skinner protested that the local voices in funding and other decisions would be silenced, as decision-making is shifted to the state Capitol.

In Florida, as in other states in the Southeast, it's the employers who need help, not so much the unemployed. Skilled workers are in short supply, and organizations like the CLM Workforce Connection, says the editorial, can search them out and help with training. The editorial called it “a shame and a disservice to our community and its local economy to lose such an effective and valuable resource.”

By its governance – bylaws and suchlike – SME cannot engage in lobbying. But I implore you to contact your senator and congressman/woman and oppose this move. Incumbent workers’ (that’s the phrase they use” programs are critically important.

Not that we shouldn’t help those who need new skills to find work, but that helping companies succeed provides the “pull” that creates jobs in the first place.

Let's not cut jobs we can use” Ocala Star-Banner
Big cuts loom for those who aid job seekers” by Eric Anderson the Albany Times Union
Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, 2007 Budget Request, including the new Career Advancement Accounts proposal

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