Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Op-Ed: Reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, by Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del)

Reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act

by Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del)

Americans are currently facing serious economic challenges. In just one year, the number of unemployed workers across the nation has increased by about 5.3 million, leaving high school and college graduates to face the toughest job market in decades. While unemployment rates continue to rise, the recession has provided several industries with real opportunities for growth.

To obtain the skills needed for these expanding fields, recent graduates and un- and underemployed workers are turning to the classroom. Changes in consumer demand, technology and many other factors have contributed to the continually changing employment structure in the U.S. economy. The sectors projected to be the fastest-growing over the next several decades are education and health services. Employment of teachers is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2006 and 2016, creating about 479,000 additional positions in the education field.
Healthcare and social assistance — including public and private hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities and individual and family services — is expected to grow by 25.4 percent, which would add approximately 4 million new jobs. These are bright spots in the economy that we can cultivate.

Now more than ever, job-training programs must be utilized to provide workers with the skills and training they will need during these challenging economic times. As many industries continue to shift and grow, we can encourage community and business leaders to include job training and postsecondary education programs as a bridge for job-seekers.

In Congress, I am hopeful that we will advance employment opportunities by revising and reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act. WIA currently works to give job-seekers access to job training services, counseling, and labor market information to help them get back on their feet. Although the legislation has been successful, more work is needed to strengthen and improve America’s job-training system to encourage states, communities and educational institutions to give workers the training they need to find good jobs.

Additionally, we must promote the community colleges and other educational institutions that have seen increased numbers of student applications and enrollment since the downturn in the economy. They are so often the key to bridging the employment gap.

In these trying times, many students have made more practical decisions to go to a local or community college instead of moving farther away for college. In fact, community college enrollment last year rose about 10 percent from the previous school year. As a co-chairman of the Congressional Community College Caucus, I have seen their potential for working with local government and industry leaders to grow a regional economy through education and practical job-training curricula.

As we consider higher education and job training, I hope we on the House Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness continue to examine what is driving college costs and expand access for students, regardless of their income. With the enactment of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, Congress took many steps toward making college more accessible and affordable through federal grants and access to student loans. We can’t turn away from asking why costs are rising at such rates and whether it is justified to increase at a faster pace than annual family household income.

As the economy continues to change, job-training programs and educational opportunities must also transform to ensure that Americans have the tools they need to be adequately trained to face the job market.

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