Now is the time to boost apprenticeship programs and work with employers to target the most in-demand skills, according to experts.
President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan is a chance to rethink job training and make workforce education more relevant to employers and easier for individuals to access, according to several experts. As part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, Biden identifies specific job training funds, including:
- $100 billion in workforce development programs for underserved groups and high school students
- $40 billion investment in a dislocated workers program
- $12 billion in general workforce development
Biden wants Congress to invest in evidence-based job training programs that include related support services and partnerships with educational institutions, unions and employers. The plan calls for industry-specific programs focused on clean energy, manufacturing and caregiving. Biden wants all of the investments in workforce training to prioritize underserved communities and communities most affected by digital transformation, including formerly incarcerated individuals.
Jennifer Carlson, co-founder and executive director of Apprenti, said she is glad to see new training investments in the infrastructure proposal. She thinks it's a good time to incorporate feedback and requirements from companies to create a system that works for a wide range of employers.
"It is important to take a step back and recognize that employers are looking to have a greater voice in how the systems are designed to generate the greatest benefit for the investment," Carlson said. "Currently, many employers are bearing the bulk of costs and risks in testing ways to create a more diverse and work-ready talent pool, and they have a viewpoint on how to overhaul the system to yield better results."
Brian A. Marks, a senior lecturer in economics and business analytics at the University of New Haven, agreed that it may be time to rethink the current approach to training and find a more effective way to ensure the U.S. workforce is flexible, adaptable, resilient and able to adapt to new challenges.
"Now may be the time for an innovative approach to education and training in order to ensure the U.S. Workforce is future-ready – a targeted approach based upon private and public partnerships that reflects the real-world realities of the current environment," Marks said.
Biden's infrastructure plan calls for $180 billion for research and development and $100 billion in broadband infrastructure, both of which support job training indirectly. Biden's plan is still just that -- the next step is for a bill addressing these priorities to be introduced in the House.
Carlson also said it's also crucial to look to a wider pool of job candidates that can fill today's pipeline needs in real time.
"If we are working to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workforce, we can't lose sight of adult workers that have been dislocated during COVID and/or were underemployed pre-COVID," she said. "Key systemic changes and investment in apprenticeships combined with the nation's available adult workforce can fill the employment void now."
Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA, said his company is also interested in using apprenticeships to increase the number of skilled workers and expand career opportunities for diverse populations, including women, individuals with disabilities and people of color.
"Together with our partner Maher & Maher we intend to demonstrate on a national scale the advantages of apprenticeship to businesses in need of tech workers, while at the same time jumpstarting thousands of new careers and increasing access to tech occupations for underrepresented groups," Thibodeaux said.
Biden's proposal also calls for community college partnerships to deliver job training programs based on in-demand skills.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, the government funding could go to existing programs that provide technical training. Thibodeaux said there are a number of successful programs at the local and state levels that are delivering positive outcomes. More funding could allow them to train more people.
"Many of these programs would also benefit from the elimination of barriers that currently exist, such as the outdated eligible training provider list," he said. "This framework does not account for the shift that has occurred with legitimate organizations delivering valuable career education via virtual training."
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This creates obstacles that prevent organizations from delivering the best training to those who need it most under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act from 2014, he added.
Thibodeaux said the greatest need for training is for underrepresented groups both to diversify the tech industry and to make it more equitable.
"The more diverse a business, the better the business becomes – culturally, financially, socially," he said. "More importantly, striving to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive is simply the right thing to do."
Tech skills in the most demand
Thibodeaux said CompTIA's Cyberstates 2021 report projects growth in net tech employment of more than 245,000 new jobs, with 48 states and 49 major metropolitan areas expected to increase tech workforces this year.
The report found that companies plan to hire core IT workers in cybersecurity data science, software developers and IT user support specialists as well as emerging infrastructure and hardware and artificial intelligence.
Marks said that companies need people who can translate such technical information and requirements that are readily accessible to a wider audience in addition to IT professionals including business analysts, data scientists, data engineers and data visualizers.
"Equally important is training in machine learning techniques, augmented reality and artificial intelligence as well as quantum computing," he said.
Finally, training programs should not be limited to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but include the arts to ensure an interdisciplinary and effective approach to problem-solving across all industries, he said.
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