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Kaine, Portman Introduce Bipartisan Jobs Act To Help Workers Access Training For In-Demand Career Fields

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH), co-chairs of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, introduced the Jumpstart Our Businesses By Supporting Students (JOBS) Act, a bill that would help students access training for the 7.3 million vacant jobs that are unfilled in part due to a shortage of qualified workers. The JOBS Act would close this “skills-gap” by expanding Pell Grant eligibility to cover high-quality and rigorous short-term job training programs so workers can afford the skills training and credentials that are in high-demand in today’s job market. Under current law, Pell Grants – needs-based grants for low-income and working students — can only be applied toward programs that are over 600 clock hours or at least 15 weeks in length, even though many job training programs are shorter term. In Virginia, the Virginia Community College System has identified approximately 50 programs that would benefit from the JOBS Act including in the fields of manufacturing, architecture/construction, energy, health care, information technology, transportation, and business management and administration. The legislation updates an earlier version of the bill that Kaine and Portman introduced in the 115th Congress. 

“We need to broaden our definition of higher education to include quality career and technical programs. And we have to make sure that federal policy supports this kind of learning too,” said Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “Data from Virginia shows students who earned short-term credentials through community colleges have seen wage increases of 20 percent to 50 percent or more. By allowing Pell grants to be used for high-quality job training, our bill will help more people afford these programs and prepare for good-paying jobs.”

“We must do a better job of ensuring that more Americans have the skills that match the jobs that are available today, and part of that is making sure our students are job-ready after graduation,” said Portman. “We’ve got a lot of great job training programs in Ohio, but some students need help getting access to them. The JOBS Act expands Pell Grant eligibility to help students get the job training they need for careers that will give them economic security and help them join the workforce. It is a commonsense proposal that has the support of the Trump Administration and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle. I look forward to moving this bill forward as we work to reauthorize of the Higher Education Act this year.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.3 million U.S. jobs are currently vacant largely because of a shortage of qualified workers. The JOBS Act would amend the Higher Education Act to expand Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality job training programs that are at least 8 weeks in length and lead to industry-recognized credentials and certificates. Under the bill, eligible programs would offer training that meets the needs of the local or regional workforce. 

"Community colleges are outstanding sources of workforce preparation," said Dr. John Rainone, president of Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Virginia. "In addition to certificates and associate degrees, we also offer high-quality, short-term training through which an individual gains knowledge and skill sets required to enter a job, such as pharmacy technician or commercial truck driver.  Pell Grants made available to assist students with the cost of these programs will be a wonderful addition to ensure students do not have to worry about financial barriers to completion. These type of short-term training programs are offered to respond to local employer needs and will be very valuable for those seeking to find jobs in the area."

The National Skills Coalition estimates that nearly half of all job openings between now and 2022 will be “middle-skill” jobs that require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree. While the number of students pursuing postsecondary certifications is growing, the supply of skilled workers still falls short of industry demand. The JOBS Act encourages employers to work with institutions of higher education to identify in-demand career fields.

The JOBS Act would amend the Higher Education Act by:

•      Expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in rigorous and high-quality short-term skills and job training programs that lead to industry-based credentials and ultimately employment in high-wage, high-skill industry sectors or careers

•      Ensuring that students who receive Pell Grants are earning high-quality postsecondary credentials by requiring that the credentials:

o   Meet the standards under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) such as meaningful career counseling and aligning programs to in-demand career pathways or registered apprenticeship programs

o   Align with the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act’s program of study definition

o   Are recognized by employers, industry, or sector partnerships

o   Align with the skill needs of industries in the state or local economy

o   Are approved by the state workforce board in addition to the U.S. Department of Education

•      Defining eligible job training programs as those providing career and technical education instruction at an institution of higher education such as a community or technical college that provides:

o   At least 150 clock hours of instruction time over a period of at least 8 weeks

o   Training that meets the needs of the local or regional workforce and industry partnerships

o   Institutional credit articulation so students can continue to pursue further education in their careers

o   Students with licenses, certifications, or credentials that meet the hiring requirements of multiple employers in the field for which the job training is offered

•      Creating an inter-agency data sharing agreement between the Department of Labor and Department of Education to share WIOA performance outcomes metrics such as median earnings and completion

The JOBS Act is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). 

The JOBS Act is endorsed by the National Skills Coalition (NSC), the Association of Community Colleges and Trustees (ACCT), the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), IBM, Opportunity America, Jobs for the Future, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), Advance CTE, Business Roundtable Table (BRT), and Young Invincibles.  

View full bill text, here