DES MOINES | Streamlining federal workforce training programs, giving states more flexibility in funding and giving workers more opportunities to improve their jobs skills are keys to closing the skills gap, according to GOP U.S. Senate hopeful Mark Jacobs.
A former energy company executive, Jacobs said the federal government has a role in addressing the skills gap –- that is, the disconnect between the types of skills the job market needs and the skills the workforce possesses.
The availability of jobs is only one part of the unemployment problem, according to Jacobs, one of six candidates for the GOP nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat. In many cases, workers don’t have the skills they need to fill many of the jobs available.
“However, we can begin closing the skills gap by providing community colleges and vocational schools with the resources they need to train our workforce and by supporting those individuals who wish to improve their skills so that they can get a better paying job,” said Jacobs.
He outlined his plans in “Strengthening Education, Our Workforce, and America’s Economy,” a white paper focused solely on Jacobs’ first priority for job growth: emphasizing community colleges and vocational schools to close the skills gap.
His three-step plan is:
• Consolidate and simplify current workforce training programs. According to the non-partisan Government Accounting Office, the federal government has 26 duplicative jobs programs. By applying business world principles of effectiveness and efficiency to those programs, Jacobs said, would free up funding to help institutions and individuals meet the needs of today’s job market.
• Provide funding to the states as block grants rather than “one size fits all” policies without regard for the nuances and demands of each diverse state’s job market
• Congress should make enrollment in skill-building programs dramatically easier, making improving their job skill more attainable. He would extend Pell Grants to students enrolled in summer classes and year-round programs, in and to students in one-year skill certificate and non-certificate programs and part-time enrollment, and extend tax credits to part-time students.
Iowa employers often times struggle to find skilled people to fill their open positions, Jacobs said.
“I experienced this in my business career where our company struggled to find skilled craftsmen for good paying jobs,” said Jacobs, who ran a Houston-based energy company. “We need to close the skill gap and empower those people who want to build their skills so that they can get a better job.”
The job market has changed and continues to change, Jacobs said. Only 28 percent of jobs required some college or a college degree in 1973, but by 2018, 63 percent of job openings will require at least some post-high school education.
In Iowa, 81 percent of jobs require some training past high school, while only 40 percent of adults have some post-secondary degree.
“Both across the nation and here in Iowa, the job market is clearly on a trend towards requiring workers to have some level of training beyond a high school diploma,” Jacobs said.
“The bottom line is that high school graduates in Iowa and around the nation do not fully meet the demands of our state’s labor market, and that leads to losses in productivity and economic opportunity.”
His plan would benefit workers, businesses as well as the federal government, Jacobs said.
“Thriving manufacturing, hospitality, and healthcare companies with the right workers in place are more productive and profitable,” he said. “Workers with training and skills can expect to see an increase in earnings and better job prospects.”
That translates into more tax revenue to the government and lower outlays for entitlement programs, he added.
“Dollars spent on education and training is an investment in our country,” Jacobs said. “We will enjoy returns on this investment in tangible and non-tangible forms … and it’s one of the ways to get the American economy back on track.”
For more on Jacobs and his plan, visit www.jacobsforiowa.com.