Commentary: We should all agree that work force training worksOne of us is a Democrat. One of us is a Republican.
By: Al Franken and Ron Antony, The Republican Eagle
One of us is a Democrat. One of us is a Republican.
We have very different ideas on many important issue, but no one, Democrat or Republican, can ignore results, and in- vesting in work force development is a proven strategy for improving the economy — and a great Minnesota success story.
In 1993, the first "one-stop" work force development office opened in Minneapolis. Two years later, a federal grant made it possible to spread this system statewide.
Unemployed Minnesotans can come to these "one-stop" offices — called WorkForce Centers — for help finding a job.
They can find lists of available jobs, guidance in building their resumes – even referrals for open positions. Counselors can also help people find out if they qualify for additional support or training.
Last year, more than 236,000 Minnesotans used these services.
It's made a difference in Mr. Antony's (one of this article’s authors) family, too. In 2008, his wife was laid off after 10 years on the job. But her local WorkForce Center helped her go back to school and earn a second degree. Today, she's back at work, as a teacher, thanks in no small part to work force development funding.
We call that a smart investment. And so do business leaders from all across Minnesota. There are 49 WorkForce Centers overseen by 16 area Workforce Investment Boards run by members of the local business community — who, after all, are the ones who need qualified workers to fill jobs.
Work force development is particularly important when it comes to the manufacturing sector. We've seen too many manufacturers have positions go unfilled because they lack qualified applicants.
Ironically, at a time when we have the worst long-term unemployment since the Great Depression, there are manufacturers anxious to fill thousands of jobs.
But these aren't your grandfather's manufacturing jobs. They are high-tech precision manu- facturing jobs like operating a computer numerical control machine. These jobs require critical thinking, problem-solving, and what are known as STEM skills: science, technology, engineering and math.
These skills are practically mandatory for any worker looking to succeed in the 21st-century economy. Eighteen of our state's 20 fastest-growing industries require them. And manufacturers are particularly desperate to hire those who have them.
Indeed, at a recent ceremony for a CNC machinist program, there were 12 graduates, and 15 companies showed up hoping to hire them.
Thanks in part to our excellent workforce development programs, Minnesota has an unemployment rate well below the national average. But even as the job market improves, WorkForce Centers report steady demand. In many places, there are waiting lists for job training.
That's why you'd think that continuing to fund work force development would be a high priority. But the House of Representatives attempted to cut funding for work force development by $2.2 billion – a 75 percent cut.
Failing to invest in workforce training would be a disaster for Minnesotans looking for work and businesses that need to hire qualified workers.
There may be issues on which the two of us have different perspectives. But the more time we spend touring WorkForce Centers, the more we are convinced this should be an investment on which we can all agree.
Al Franken serves in the U.S. Senate. Ron Antony serves on the Yellow Medicine County Board.