A new bill introduced this week by Senator Tammy Baldwin aims to bolster training programs as employers grapple with a shortage of skilled workers.
Baldwin introduced the Promoting Apprenticeships through Regional Training Networks for Employers’ Required Skills Act, also known as the PARTNERS Act, on Thursday. If adopted by Congress and signed by the president, the legislation would direct money to new or existing programs that provide on-the-job training.
The bill comes at at time when Wisconsin is enjoying record-low unemployment; Wisconsin’s unemployment rate held at 2.8 percent in May. Employers are meanwhile struggling to find workers amid a building boom driven by projects like the $10 billion factory Foxconn Technology Group is building in Mount Pleasant. That job alone is expected to employ 10,000 construction workers.
“We are trying to address a very confounding skills gap and projected workforce shortage,” Baldwin said in an interview Friday. “This is a really appealing strategy because you don’t have to wait until somebody is out of technical college or comes out with a degree to put them to work.”
Under a system set up by the bill, states could request money from the U.S. Department of Labor to bolster new or existing worker-training programs. States that receive money would then be able dole out as much as $500,000 over three years for qualified training programs.
The needed money would be raised by drawing off 50 percent of the revenue brought in by a fee collected on applications for H1B visas, which allow foreign workers to fill certain types of jobs at U.S. companies.
Baldwin said the bill is the result of conversations she’s had with officials at small- and medium-sized businesses, many of which are struggling to start apprenticeship programs. She said she’s generally looking to benefit programs that help get workers into adult-instruction classes and pre-apprenticeship programs and provide access to work clothes and transportation, among other things.
Baldwin said that despite the U.S. economy’s current strength, many people are still having trouble finding good jobs.
“(The bill focuses on) the worker who hasn’t yet, with an improving economy, gotten that family-supporting job because of whatever set of barriers,” Baldwin said. “Someone who is just stuck forever in two minimum wage jobs trying to make ends meet. Wouldn’t it be great to have one $20-an-hour job? Not only that but be learning as you earn to get even more ahead.Follow @natebeck9