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Investing to produce more skilled workers must be part of rebuilding America

What if Congress passed a bill to rebuild our nation, and we couldn’t find the American workers to do it?

That’s the prospect we’re facing as we wrestle with critical infrastructure legislation before Congress. And it’s why a major investment in a more skilled workforce must be part of the solution.

To recap, there are two vital bills currently winding their way through Congress: a “hard infrastructure” bill to rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, waterways, electric grid, and public transit systems; and a “human infrastructure” bill that includes, among other things, money to expand childcare, elder care, paid family leave, and address the costs of climate change. The hard infrastructure bill will create millions of good-paying jobs; the human infrastructure bill will help support the workers who will fill those jobs.

The hard infrastructure bill has sufficient bipartisan support to become law. The human infrastructure bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, is still under negotiation. Regardless of the final size and scope of the Build Back Better Act, it must include robust funding to expand our nation’s skilled workforce.

Let’s face it three-fourths the landscape of the 21st Century economy has changed. Once-dominant industries like coal and steel production are contracting, while other sectors, like renewable energy and software, are booming as new technologies present new opportunities. This is reflected in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which contains funding for broadband service and renewable energy sources along with more traditional infrastructure.

There remains a crucial need to train the American workforce for this new economy. Frankly, we’ve been shortchanging investment in workforce development for generations. Federal spending on workforce training and employment services is at its lowest level in more than 50 years, and funding for community college career and technical education has fallen 28 percent over the last two decades.

Now is the time to invest in American workers. High unemployment and historic turnover, combined with the economic energy of the post-COVID recovery, present an unparalleled opportunity to retrain and realign the American workforce for the new economy while providing millions of Americans with the skills to earn higher wages and long-term security. It will also help us address the climate crisis by making sure workers have the skills they need to fill good-paying jobs that support clean energy and decarbonize our economy.

Recognizing this opportunity, we led more than 100 of our congressional colleagues in calling for the Build Back Better Act to include $100 billion to be spent on workforce training and development over the next 10 years, three-fourths the full amount proposed in President Biden’s original Build Back Better plan.

It was a significant victory when the House Education and Labor Committee set aside approximately $80 billion for these programs in the human infrastructure bill, including post-secondary career and technical education programs, registered apprenticeships, dislocated worker programs for workers in declining industries, career and technical education for high schoolers and youth career pipeline programs, as well as the full spectrum of counseling and career pathway supportive services. This bold investment would reverse decades of neglect for workforce training, employment services, and career and technical education programs. We continue to urge congressional leadership to maintain this level of funding in the final Build Back Better Act.

The legislation being considered right now in the House and Senate represents one of the boldest investments in the course of our nation’s history. These efforts to restore our country will only succeed if there are American workers to build the roads, repair the trains, manufacture the electric cars, upgrade the transmission lines, and fill all of the critical infrastructure jobs in our evolving economy.

Our success depends on passing a Build Back Better Act that includes robust funding for workforce development and career and technical education. We might not get this chance again.

Raja Krishnamoorthi represents Illinois’ 8th District and Suzanne Bonamici represents Oregon’s 1st District.

Tags Build Back Better plan job training Joe Biden Raja Krishnamoorthi Suzanne Bonamici Workforce development

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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