Next week, President Trump will deliver his third State of the Union address, potentially during the longest government shutdown in our country’s history. At this time of stark divides, the speech presents the president with the opportunity to think about policies that can generate bipartisan support – like those around workforce and education.
In the past year, Congress passed bipartisan reauthorizations of Career and Technical Education (CTE) legislation and the Farm Bill. Congress also passed bipartisan funding legislation for Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services that included increases in funding for apprenticeship, CTE and adult education.
The administration has certainly signaled the importance of skills over the past year. The President signed an executive order creating the Council on the American Worker, lead by the Secretaries of Commerce and Labor and the head of the Domestic Policy Council, along with an advisory panel to inform the work of the Council, comprised business leaders and local and state policy makers. And the Department of Labor continues to roll out a new Industry Recognized Apprenticeship system.
At the same time, the administration has taken many steps that undercut a message of support for workers and business.
- The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and 2019 budget requests – at least in their original form – called for drastic cuts to workforce, education and human service programming. We can’t compete in a global economy if we cut investment to vital workforce and education programs.
- In June, the White House released a proposed reorganization of the federal government that would have merged the Departments of Labor and Education into a single Department on Education and the Workforce and included even further detrimental funding cuts to important programs and harmful expansion of work requirements. Alignment is important, but this reorganization wouldn’t help people get skills businesses need. It would instead undermine Congressional recognition of the importance of skills evidenced in the bipartisan reauthorizations of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and Career and Technical Education (CTE) legislation and increased federal appropriations in CTE, apprenticeship and adult basic education last year.
- Proposed changes to the public charge rule would chill the pipeline of immigrant workers able to fill middle-skill openings. Instead of making training difficult to access, the federal government should ensure immigrants are fully integrated into the US labor market to realize the economic potential of newcomers, not only for individuals and their families but for American employers and communities.
- And the imposition of widespread work requirements, part of another 2018 Executive Order, would reduce access to critical income supports for millions of low-income workers and their families, while limiting recipients’ ability to earn skills that can move them into open jobs and off of public benefits. Work requirements have demonstrated little impact in increasing employment or reducing poverty and instead have led to reduced access to critical income supports for millions of low-income workers and their families.
The State of the Union has historically been an opportunity for the president to lay out aspirational policy goals that tackle the big issues facing our country. With more than 80 percent of all jobs requiring some postsecondary education and training – and many jobs subject to automation in the years to come – we need to recognize that our nation needs a new vision for skills investment on a scale far beyond what we’ve done in the past.
Let’s hope the president rises to the occasion.