June 19, 2019

Harris Introduces 21st Century SKILLS Act to Invest in Workforce Training

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday introduced the 21st Century Skills are Key to Individuals’ Life-Long Success (SKILLS) Act, legislation to make high-quality training, education, and supportive services more accessible for workers to help them secure 21st century jobs.

As offshoring, automation, artificial intelligence, and other technological advances fundamentally change the future of work in our country, American workers face unprecedented challenges in obtaining the skills required to remain competitive in the global economy. Already, 52% of unemployed Americans believe they need more education or training for the jobs they want—but only 26% took a class or pursued additional training to acquire those skills. Too often, workers are either unaware of training opportunities or unable to afford the costs associated with developing new skills. 

“Today’s economy is rapidly changing and will require many workers to build on their existing skills or obtain new skills throughout the course of their careers,” said Sen. Harris. “It is critical that Congress and employers recognize the importance of workforce development in order for our country to remain competitive in the global economy. This legislation makes a serious investment in our workers by removing barriers to securing the good-paying jobs of today and the future – including covering the costs of high-quality training and education programs and critical supports, such as child care, transportation, and books.”

The 21st Century SKILLS Act will:

  • Establish accounts for American workers to access skills training and other educational opportunities, as well as pay costs associated with pursuing that opportunity, such as child care and transportation costs. Up to 78 million Americans will be eligible for:
    • $8,000 if they are unemployed, dislocated, or employed and earning under 50% of state median income.
    • $6,000 if they are employed and earning 50-75% of state median income.
    • $4,000 if they are employed and earning 75-100% of state median income.
  • Increase transparency and accountability in the workforce development system to ensure workers maintain access to high-quality, high-value training opportunities.
    • Require states to set minimum levels of performance for training providers to remain eligible for training account funds.
    • Create tools to compare employment outcome data across programs, providers, and states.
  • Establish a grant program to encourage employers, education and training providers, labor, local workforce boards, and community-based organizations to collaborate to identify a community’s needs and align training and education opportunities with local employment demand.

The 21st Century SKILLS Act is supported by BSA | The Software Alliance, CLASP, Futures Without Violence, Jobs for the Future, NAACP, National Association of Counties, National Association of Workforce Boards, National Skills Coalition, National League of Cities, SEIU, Small Business Majority, Third Way, Thumbtack, UnidosUS, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, YWCA, California Workforce Association, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Inland Empire Economic Partnership, Year Up, Los Angeles County, National Urban League, and Safer Foundation. 

“We applaud Senator Harris for introducing the 21st Century SKILLS Act,” said Olivia Golden, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). “This legislation delivers a bold strategy for investing in America’s workforce. It would guarantee individual training accounts—currently available in very small numbers due to limited funding for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—for all qualifying low-income, adult, and dislocated workers. They can use the accounts to cover tuition and fees for high-quality education and training, along with much-needed supports including child care, transportation, and other services that help them succeed. This investment would be a crucial step towards making the public workforce development system truly work for America and support career pathways that help low-income people move along pathways out of poverty.”

“The 21st Century SKILLS Act would empower more workers to access and succeed in training for jobs that are the backbone of the US economy,” said Katie Spiker, Director of Government Affairs at National Skills Coalition. “Nearly 80% of small and mid-size business leaders support new, public investments in skills - investments like those proposed today by Senator Harris.”

“The NAACP extends its gratitude to Senator Kamala Harris for her leadership in introducing the 21st Century SKILLS Act to ensure that every American has an opportunity to develop the knowledge base and skills to compete for the jobs of the future,” said Hilary O. Shelton, Director of NAACP’s Washington Bureau & Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “By equipping American workers with the education, training, and resources necessary for the 21st century economy, this bill will help foster inclusive and equity-oriented economic growth. When we invest in our communities, we ensure that all Americans have a chance to contribute to our nation and succeed.”

“Thank you Senator Harris for introducing this legislation,” said Leticia Lewis, Policy Director of BSA | The Software Alliance. “The world of work is changing and industry and government both have a role to play to help current workers keep pace. The 21st Century SKILLS Act is an important step in making sure we have a well-trained workforce that can succeed in our growing digital economy.”

The full text of the bill can be found here.

For a full list of supportive statements, click here.