In his first State of the Union Address since taking office, President Joe Biden focused, understandably, on the war in Ukraine—the foreign policy issue that is top of mind for people across the United States as he enters the second year of his presidency.
However, the president also shared an exciting vision for the country domestically, and at Jobs for the Future (JFF), we are encouraged that he established goals for increasing and sustaining U.S. economic productivity and putting more Americans back to work in good jobs.
Looking back over the past year, the president highlighted how investments made through the American Rescue Plan have already resulted in record U.S. job growth—adding more than 6.6 million jobs back into the economy and creating opportunities for millions of workers to reenter the labor force. The recent enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing will create hundreds of thousands of new and better family-supporting jobs.
This progress, coupled with the potential passage of the America COMPETES Act, which is currently moving through Congress, will make for an unprecedented investment in advanced manufacturing, scientific research and development, and create even more jobs in our nation’s most rapidly growing industries.
JFF strongly supports the president’s call for investments in U.S. productivity and competitiveness.
For these efforts to succeed, however, we must ensure that U.S. workers have the skills they need to fill the newly created positions, and we must ensure that all workers have equitable access to these opportunities.
JFF strongly supports the president’s call for investments in U.S. productivity and competitiveness. We applaud his efforts to reduce costs for families who are struggling to advance in today’s economy, especially individuals who have faced barriers to opportunity because of their race, ethnicity, or gender. We also welcome his proposed investments in child care and other worker-friendly supports, including proposals to raise the maximum Pell Grant award by more than $2,000 and increase investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority Serving Institutions.
Moreover, we are encouraged to hear the president recognize the need to expand skills-based training through programs like Registered Apprenticeship. We also welcome his willingness to address the urgent need for an increase in skills-based hiring across the country by exploring ways to use federal procurement dollars to encourage employers to hire people based on their skills rather than their educational qualifications alone—and to urge employers to embrace this practice by investing in skills-based hiring research and technical assistance.
Recognizing worker skills rather than simply using degrees as proxies for competency in making hiring decisions will have a positive impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the labor market, and it will help employers find highly qualified workers to meet their needs.
We are encouraged to hear the president recognize the need to expand skills-based training ... [and we] welcome his willingness to address the urgent need for an increase in skills-based hiring.
And in line with the president’s call for the establishment of an ARPA-H agency that would develop high-risk, high-reward capabilities to drive biomedical breakthroughs, JFF encourages the administration to push for the creation of an ARPA-L agency that would advance the capabilities of the workforce development field.
Finally, JFF strongly supports the administration’s efforts to further increase investments in America’s workers.
While the American Rescue Plan did result in several state and local government investments in workforce development, and in the Economic Development Administration’s decision to launch the Good Jobs Challenge, these investments are not sufficient to meet our nation’s current or future skill demands.
The United States woefully underinvests in skills training. In the version passed by the House of Representatives, President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation would have invested $40 billion in workforce development over five years. If American workers are to take advantage of the jobs created through infrastructure and competitiveness investments, we must invest at these levels to train the workers who will fill those jobs. In this way, we can truly ensure the fulfillment of the president’s economic vision of a highly productive U.S. economy in which all Americans have opportunities to advance.