Empowering American workers in the modern economy

This article originally appeared in The Hill on December 14, 2023.

It has been almost four years since the COVID-19 pandemic upended every facet of American society — most notably the way we work. More workers are doing their jobs remotely, at least part of the time. Many have moved to different states or switched careers, and millions have left the workforce entirely. It is no wonder that employers continue to cite workforce shortages as one of their biggest issues — and the slew of regulations, historic inflation, and high interest rates resulting from Biden administration policies is not doing them any favors.

This week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce cleared two critically important bills that would help address these shortages and empower American workers in the modern economy: the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act and A Stronger Workforce for America Act.

The first bill would transform the federal Pell Grant program, which provides up to $7,395 per year for low-income students to attend college. Unfortunately, the program currently requires students to enroll in traditional two- or four-year degree programs. The measure passed by the House committee would allow students to use Pell funding for short-term, job-specific training, including programs that lead to occupational licenses and industry certificates. Strong accountability mechanisms would ensure that only programs with high graduation and placement rates — and with a positive return on investment for workers and taxpayers — would be eligible.

These reforms are long overdue. Though many college graduates leave campus with the “right” political opinions and cultural beliefs, little indicates that they are prepared to meet the challenges of joining the modern workforce. Business leaders report high levels of dissatisfaction with today’s college graduates (one study found that only 44 percent of employers judge recent graduates as “very well prepared” to communicate effectively in writing, a number that falls to 39 percent for critical thinking). Students share those concerns and judge themselves at least as ill-prepared for workplace success. When it comes to earnings, a recent analysis of 30,000 bachelor’s degree programs nationwide found that 28 percent have a negative return on investment.

Read full op-ed in The Hill

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