Skilled Workforce: What Washington Knows, and Needs

October 25, 2013

I had the privilege of participating in the Business Leaders United Fly-In to Capital Hill in Washington D.C. earlier this week representing the Precision Machined Products Association.

In our Monday evening meeting we were joined by Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzger, and from the White House, Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy.

Two Cabinet Secretaries and the Top White House Economic Advisor showed me that Washington realizes we have a skilled workforce problem.

Two Cabinet Secretaries and the Top White House Economic Advisor showed me that Washington realizes we have a skilled workforce problem.

The fact that we got to meet with top staffers at various Senate and House offices, as well as staffers from the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee convinced me that we had the attention of the folks who could make a difference in Washington, D.C..

I spoke with top staff assistants handling policy for Speaker Boehner and Senator Portman from my home state of Ohio.

We had substantive  and frank discussions about the facts (on which we all seemed to agree) and possible solutions for this issue.

What worked –  creating employer driven partnerships- even among competitors- summer youth programs, quantifying local area opportunities and job market research to make the career case- was shared and explored.

The challenges- lack of educational attainment, lack of ‘soft skills,’ and various funding issues were also discussed.

Despite the news stories about tension and gridlock in D.C, we were able to speak to the people that can help solve this problem.

Despite the news stories about tension and gridlock in D.C, we were able to speak to the people that can help solve this problem.

It is no longer about admitting that we have a lack of skilled workers in the ‘unemployed workforce.’

There was no evidence of denial of the problem of unemployment and lack of skills.

What all of our contacts asked about  was centered around three key questions:

  • What works to help us qualify and put to work long term unemployed in middle skill jobs?
  • How do we build the ROI case for this?
  • How do we scale it nationwide?

My fellow small business delegates from BLU shared  some of their challenges, but more importantly, their success stories of their local partnerships.

What Washington wants/needs to know is how can we build these up to gain national traction?

What would you suggest?