Senator Murray Leads Hearing on Strengthening Workforce Programs to Address COVID-19 Job Crisis
Murray highlights importance of boosting workforce programs and supporting working families who have been most impacted by the pandemic
Senator Murray: “We must provide workers with pathways to good jobs and support life-long learning opportunities. This is why our nation’s workforce programs are so important.”
***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, held a hearing focused on strengthening our nation’s workforce programs to provide quality education, training, and employment opportunities for working families impacted by the pandemic. In her opening remarks, Senator Murray highlighted that workers are currently struggling through the most unequal jobs crisis in modern history—with women, workers of color, and workers with disabilities experiencing disproportionately high job loss. At the hearing, Senator Murray stressed that in order to build back a stronger, fairer economy that works for everyone, we need to invest in our nation’s workforce programs to ensure that every worker has the training, skills, and opportunities they need to succeed.
The hearing included testimony from Maria Flynn, President and CEO of Jobs for the Future, Deniece Thomas, Deputy Commissioner of Workforce Learning and Development for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Dr. Scott Ralls, President of Wake Technical Community College, and Alejandro Mendoza, Human Resources Manager for Optimax Systems.
“We must provide workers with pathways to good jobs and support life-long learning opportunities. This is why our nation’s workforce programs are so important,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks. “Apprenticeship and other job training programs can help people stay competitive and grow in the careers they have or develop new skills and start new careers. But we have to make sure these programs are truly working for working families.”
During her remarks, Senator Murray underscored the importance of making these programs accessible for those who need them most and ensuring that workers have a pathway to fair wages and quality benefits. She also described how critical these programs are for working families struggling to get back on their feet, highlighting how her own family was able to benefit from a worker training program.
“I will also say, for me, this is really personal. One of the reasons my family was able to make it through hard times was because my mom was able to go back to school, get training, and ultimately, a higher-paying job. It made a huge difference for us. So many families today have lost their jobs and have had the rug completely pulled out from under them. I want to make sure people in Washington state and across the country have that same opportunity as my mother.”
Senator Murray also reiterated her focus on working across the aisle to boost workforce programs and deliver for working families. The hearing follows Senator Murray and Senator Burr’s (R-NC) announcement in March that they intend to work together to develop bipartisan legislation to update and expand workforce training programs, support and expand the national apprenticeship system, address growing workforce needs associated with the economic downturn, and encourage innovation.
“I’m optimistic about what this Committee can accomplish together. We’ve got a bipartisan track record on workforce issues like when we passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014 and when we reauthorized the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act in 2018. I know my colleagues on the Committee, on both sides of the aisle, are focused on this important issue, so I really feel we’ve got an opportunity to come together, get this done, and help workers all across the country,” said Senator Murray.
Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
“We are here today because our nation is in the middle of the most unequal jobs crisis in modern history.
“Millions of people have lost jobs they relied on to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, pay their bills, and afford a postsecondary education.
“And some estimates suggest at least a third of COVID-related job-loss will be permanent.
“Millions of people have also been forced out of the workforce, including by issues like our nation’s shortage of quality, affordable child care.
“And of the millions of workers struggling, we know a disproportionately high number have been women, people of color, people with disabilities, and people in rural communities.
“And this isn’t a problem that’s going to fix itself—not in Washington state, not in North Carolina, not anywhere.
“Because, while the people facing the worst rates of unemployment and underemployment, are those who are paid the lowest wages.
“A recent study suggests future job growth will be mainly in higher wage occupations—meaning workers will need access to greater competencies and skills to have more opportunities for employment.
“For example, with so many businesses adapting their operations and service models as a result of the pandemic, the demand for digital skills has accelerated.
“Yet, according to the National Skills Coalition, at least 48 million Americans lack foundational digital skills.
“But the problem isn’t simply about helping employers find skilled workers, it’s about providing workers new opportunities, tearing down barriers, and helping people find quality jobs that lead to economic self-sufficiency.
“While it is important the workforce system adapts to the needs of employers, this cannot be the only focus.
“We must provide workers with pathways to good jobs and support life-long learning opportunities.
“This is why our nation’s workforce programs are so important.
“Apprenticeship and other job training programs can help people stay competitive and grow in the careers they have or develop new skills and start new careers.
“But we have to make sure these programs are truly working for working families.
“That means providing services and support people need to get into training programs and stay in them, like child care to help them manage a busy family schedule, or financial support to help cover costs associated with an education or training program.
“It means tearing down barriers that can make these programs hardest to reach for those who most need them, like formerly incarcerated people, people who have been unemployed for a long time, and youth who are neither in school nor participating in the labor market.
“It means making sure we’re really reaching the people who are struggling the most, by accounting for longstanding inequities in the workforce.
“We also have to keep in mind the ultimate goal here is economic security for workers and families, which isn’t just about how quickly people can get trained and get jobs, but how good that training is and the quality of jobs associated with that training.
“It’s about making sure workers are getting good wages and benefits, making sure they have the data and guidance they need to make informed decisions, helping workers get credentials that are portable and relevant if they decide to look for another job, and preparing them for fields where there is high demand, like STEM, clean energy, manufacturing, and infrastructure—fields where President Biden is also proposing significant investments—and health care and public health—sectors in which the pandemic has worsened longstanding shortages.
“I know in my home state, Tribal hospitals are understaffed and some rural counties lack an adequate number of health care providers, underscoring the need for far more primary care physicians, nurses, and specialists in fields like behavioral health, oral health, women’s health, and pediatrics.
“To tackle all of these challenges and strengthen our workforce the way we need to, we also have to make fundamental investments like the $15 billion to support workforce training programs I called for in my Relaunching America’s Workforce Act, and the $100 billion for workforce development programs President Biden called for in his American Jobs Plan.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us to respond to this pandemic and the current jobs crisis and a lot at stake for families in Washington state, and across the country, who are counting on us to make sure workers who have been set back by this pandemic have the opportunity to get new skills, new jobs, and economic security.
“I will also say, for me, this is really personal.
“One of the reasons my family was able to make it through hard times was because my mom was able to go back to school, get training, and ultimately, a higher-paying job. It made a huge difference for us.
“So many families today have had the rug completely pulled out from under them, and I want to make sure people in Washington state and across the country have that same opportunity.
“And I’m optimistic about what this Committee can accomplish together. We’ve got a bipartisan track record on workforce issues like when we passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014 and when we Reauthorized the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act in 2018.
“I know my colleagues on the Committee, on both sides of the aisle, are focused on this important issue, so I really feel we’ve got an opportunity to come together, get this done, and help workers all across the country.
“And I look forward to working with my colleagues to listen to stakeholders, look at commonsense solutions, and build on our bipartisan track record here in the months ahead.
“Now I’ll recognize Ranking Member Burr for his opening remarks.”
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