Recently, we learned that members of Congress can act quickly when their flights heading home might be delayed. When it comes to the rest of us, all we get is, well — nothing.
Congress protected the air traffic controllers from damaging cuts under the sequester, which requires automatic federal spending reductions, but didn't do anything to help people who have lost access to basic services such as nutrition, housing and the ability to attain and hold a job.
For America's workers and employers, deep funding cuts have been too common over the past three years. Congress has cut federal workforce development investments by more than $1 billion since 2010. Now the sequester is making even deeper cuts, threatening our ability to provide critical employment and job training services to those most in need.
Sequestration by design cuts deeply and indiscriminately. Both parties agree it was never meant to happen. Yet, it will keep happening until Congress and the administration work together to replace sequestration with a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
There are five regional workforce investment boards in Connecticut, including Capital Workforce Partners, which provides services to 37 municipalities in North Central Connecticut, among them Hartford, New Britain, Bristol and Manchester. The other four boards are in the Waterbury, Bridgeport, New Haven and the Norwich/New London regions. There is also a statewide workforce board — the Connecticut Employment and Training Commission. These workforce boards, along with the Connecticut Department of Labor, work tirelessly to help Congress understand their positive impacts on addressing the needs of the unemployed and under-employed in their regions, as well as identifying the skills needs of their businesses.
Regional Workforce Investment Boards are not the government. They are private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit entities that develop a competitive workforce to meet the needs of the state's businesses through education, training and job readiness. They do that in four ways: 1) Providing leverage to government funded programs; 2) Partnering by connecting educators, community agencies, economic development, funders and businesses, along with policy-makers to support business and job creation; 3) Spearheading innovation as needs change, workforce boards have the nimbleness and flexibility to develop cutting-edge solutions for workforce issues; and 4) Building capacity by broadening their reach through networks and maximizing government funded programs.
Even though Congress was able to make the hasty decision to help air travel, it continues to ignore the conversation to reauthorize the outdated Workforce Investment Act, which hasn't been addressed since it was enacted in 1998. The act established a network of more than 500 workforce investment boards nationally to best meet the workforce needs of regional labor markets, as each region has unique differences. For example, Eastern Connecticut has very different needs to support its employers, concentrated in the casino and defense industries, than North Central Connecticut, which is focusing on developing a strong workforce for the health care, manufacturing and financial services sectors. This regional approach is key to making good decisions on the allocation of federal funds. At the state and municipal levels, policy makers are trying to understand how to leverage the strengths of workforce investment boards, to better assist their job seekers and business constituents. But Congress is still asleep at the wheel.
We need to increase the dialogue to result in positive workforce advancements, to help businesses better grow and compete. At the same time we must help individuals to successfully compete for self-sustaining careers, shortening the transition time from unemployment back into the workforce. Although we are tremendously grateful for the support of our Connecticut delegation on these issues, the word needs to get out to their colleagues.
The sequester is costing us jobs, costing us skilled workers and putting our future in danger.
Waiting at the airport is frustrating — but sustained support of workers and development of job opportunities is critical. Let's get off this flight to nowhere and get our nation's priorities in order.
Thomas Phillips is president and CEO of Capital Workforce Partners.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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