As I visit communities across Northwest Oregon, I hear from many Oregonians who feel left behind and left out of the economic recovery. Too many people are still struggling to make ends meet. If they are working, their wages are stagnant. They feel overwhelmed by rising rent prices, barriers to transportation, and sky-high childcare costs. There may be job openings in their community, but the jobs require skills and resources they don’t have.
They are not alone. More than half of the jobs in today’s labor market require less than a four-year degree, but more than a high school diploma. Unfortunately, only 43 percent of American workers have the skills for those positions. This creates a “skills gap,” leaving businesses struggling to find workers with necessary skills, and workers without pathways to better-paying jobs.
Apprenticeships and work-based learning programs help close the skills gap. Employers can align training with the skills they need, and workers learn while they earn through classroom instruction and paid, on-the-job training. It’s a win-win.
We need to strengthen investments in work-based learning programs that respond to local industry needs, like the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center (OMIC). OMIC brings together industry leaders like Boeing with educational institutions such as Oregon Tech, Oregon State University, Portland State University, and Portland Community College to develop work-based learning programs. This collaboration will result in growth and efficiency in advanced manufacturing, and more good jobs for Oregonians.
OMIC is the right approach, at the right time, in the right place. It will foster the expertise and innovation that American industries need to continue to thrive and compete globally. This public-private partnership is a tremendous opportunity for Oregonians because it brings value to our communities and the economy.
To help Oregonians and many other Americans who still face job insecurity, we must expand work-based learning to sectors of the economy that lack established apprenticeship programs, like health care and technology start-ups. Small- and medium-sized businesses often do not have the resources to establish work-based learning programs. Like OMIC, industry partnerships bring together employers, education institutions, training providers, and community-based organizations to support the creation and expansion of work-based learning programs that benefit workers and the economy as a whole.
Recently my colleague on the Education and Workforce Committee, Congressman Drew Ferguson, and I introduced bipartisan legislation to expand opportunities for skills training. Our bill, the PARTNERS Act, would support industry partnerships to help small- and medium-sized businesses develop work-based learning programs—at no additional cost to taxpayers. The industry partnerships will also make it easier for people to re-enter the workforce by providing workers with access to tools, work attire, transportation, child care services, and mentorship support.
Through greater investment in apprenticeships and other training programs, we can get more people back to work and provide our nation’s businesses with a more productive and efficient workforce. The PARTNERS Act and OMIC stem from the same good concept: when we approach economic problems with workers and businesses in mind, we come up with better solutions for everyone—and we all win.