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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 5.5 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.

“Fields like cybersecurity are critical to our economy and our national security, yet good, well-paying jobs in those areas are going unfilled,” said Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “Community colleges across Virginia offer the short-term job training programs that workers need to gain the skills to get hired, but they can't apply for Pell Grant funding for these programs like they can for traditional classes. The JOBS Act is a commonsense, bipartisan bill that would help workers and employers succeed in today's economy.”

“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,” Portman said. “We’ve got a lot of great Career and Technical Education programs in Ohio, but some kids need help getting access to them. By expanding Pell Grant eligibility, the JOBS Act will help kids from low-income families get the job training they need for careers that will give them economic security and help them join the middle class. We will all benefit from that.”

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statists, 5.5 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. 

“Often, the people who can gain the most by obtaining an industry-certified postsecondary credential cannot afford the training necessary to earn it,” said Glenn DuBois, Chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “These programs neither take as long nor cost as much as traditional college degree programs, but are still beyond the reach of many people without financial aid. Changing that will help not only individual job-seekers but also the employers who need to hire qualified, highly skilled candidates to fill good-paying  jobs right now.”

“There’s a real skills gap that keeps businesses from being able to hire qualified workers. The JOBS Act will invest in people who want to work in the industries that are hiring, and connect them to businesses in Virginia who can’t find the skilled workers they need,” said Laurie S. Moran, President and CEO of the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce.

“In advanced manufacturing, we rely on apprenticeship and other training strategies to develop a skilled workforce,” said Randy Bennett, co-owner of Automation Tool and Die in Brunswick, Ohio.  “The JOBS Act will support the critical first steps along that pathway by investing in people who want to work in in-demand industries like mine, and connecting them to Ohio businesses currently struggling to hire skilled workers.”

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 certification is growing, the supply of skilled workers still falls short of industry demand. The JOBS Act encourages industry and 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-demand 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 such as meaningful career      counseling and aligning programs to in-demand career pathways or registered apprenticeship programs,

       o Are recognized by employers, industry or sector partnerships;

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

 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,

       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;

 Awarding half of the current discretionary Pell amount or $2,887 to students who attend skills and job training programs since programs are shorter and less costly.

The JOBS Act is endorsed by the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Jobs For the Future, the National Skills Coalition (NSC), Advance CTE, Shipbuilders Council of America, the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and Young Invincibles. Kaine and Portman introduced an earlier version of this legislation in the 114th Congress.