JFF CEO Urges Congress to Seize Opportunity to Transform U.S. Workforce Development System

Published apr. 21, 2021

Testifying before a U.S. Senate committee, JFF President and CEO Maria Flynn called on Congress to help transform our nation’s workforce development programs to build a “modern, agile, equitable, resilient, and innovative” system that helps workers who have been displaced by the COVID-driven recession and prepares them for future economic change.

More than 40 million U.S. workers have lost jobs and substantial financial ground during the pandemic, and those who have been hit hardest are low-wage earners and individuals with no postsecondary credentials, Flynn said at a hearing of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. A disproportionate number are Black, Latinx, and Indigenous workers, and women have lost jobs at far higher rates than men.

We need to look at “how we truly put equity at the center of our recovery efforts,” Flynn said in response to a question from Committee Chair Patty Murray about how to help workers in low-wage jobs get on a path to long-term economic self-sufficiency.

The pandemic has exposed how critical it is to be prepared for the worst while keeping up with the rapid pace of change in our economy.

JFF CEO Maria Flynn

While the current crisis has exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequities in U.S. society, it has also presented the country with an unprecedented opportunity to lay the foundation for a more equitable future for all, Flynn said.

“While we may hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, the pandemic has exposed how critical it is to be prepared for the worst while keeping up with the rapid pace of change in our economy,” Flynn said.

You can watch Flynn’s testimony here.

Flynn led off the testimony of four witnesses who appeared before the HELP Committee on April 20, setting the stage with her perspective as head of a national nonprofit whose mission is economic advancement for all. Other witnesses included Scott Ralls, president of Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina, a member of JFF’s Policy Leadership Trust.

For the country to achieve a full and equitable recovery, Flynn said, we must invest in postsecondary education, skills training, and workforce development programs that provide everyone with opportunities to find work in today’s turbulent economy and remain competitive in the labor market of the future. We also need a workforce development system capable of meeting the needs of diverse populations, including workers in transition and young people who are disconnected from school and work.

[We need to look at] how we truly put equity at the center of our recovery efforts.

JFF CEO Maria Flynn

Specifically, she said, JFF urges policymakers to increase funding for training programs available under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), authorize the use of Pell Grants for high-quality short-term credentialing courses, and explore alternative postsecondary financing mechanisms, including income share agreements.

In addition, she said, one of our country’s top priorities should be “investing in and designing a truly high-quality career navigation system” that uses the latest digital technologies. She also called for the adoption of a lifelong learning model that allows workers to move through courses at an accelerated pace and said education and workforce leaders should engage with employers to ensure that training programs meet the needs of the labor market. Moreover, she emphasized the need to “dispel some of the myths around apprenticeship” and help employers and learners see that work-based learning can be a pathway to all kinds of well-paying careers, including not only the skilled trades, but also IT, health care, business services, and a range of other skilled occupations.

Read more about JFF’s recommendations in Flynn’s written testimony to the committee.