House passes workforce bill

Measure would streamline programs, provide more coordination in Central Oregon

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin / @andclev

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Sponsor: Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.

History: Passed Senate in June; passed House Wednesday

Central Oregon impact: Would coordinate regional services and programs between job seekers, employers and local higher education institutions

What’s next: Heads to the president’s desk; Obama is expected to sign into law

Online: Read the bill at thomas.loc.gov/home/bills_res.html

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would streamline the process for connecting employers with job seekers and coordinate education and employment programs.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed easily with bipartisan support, 415-6. The bill, which passed the Senate in June by a 95-3 vote, now heads to the desk of President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law within the coming days.

The bill seeks to empower local job force agencies to tailor their offerings to match local needs. Under the bill, each state must produce a unified strategic plan for providing training, employment services and vocational education in a coordinated way. Every member of the Oregon delegation voted in favor of the bill.

In a prepared statement, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said the bill seeks to replace the current workforce development system, which constituents have told him is a confusing maze of programs. Walden described the current system as outdated, inefficient and not accountable to taxpayers.

“This bipartisan legislation will reform and improve workforce training programs so Oregonians can obtain the skills they need to go back to work. It eliminates fifteen duplicative programs, reducing administrative costs and unnecessary bureaucracy. Local boards are empowered to tailor services to their region’s employment and workforce needs. And the bill promotes skills training for 21st century jobs, fostering a modern workforce that Oregon businesses rely on to compete. It’s a win for taxpayers, job seekers and employers,” Walden said.

Trygve Bolken, the human resources manager for Bend Research, said the bill will create a single organization where people looking for jobs, educational organizations and employers can coordinate their efforts.

“It’s going to strengthen the connection between adult education and really align (those efforts) with what businesses are looking for,” he said.

Currently, Bend Research has to recruit around 80 percent of its hires from outside Central Oregon because few local candidates meet the required qualifications and skill sets, said Bolken, who was recently appointed to the Oregon Workforce Investment Board. He said the new legislation would help employers communicate their needs to local schools, such as Central Oregon Community College and OSU-Cascades.

“Employers need to get together and say, ‘This is something we really need,’” and work with local schools to develop curricula that will build a pool of local candidates, he said. “Giving employers a voice on (local) workforce investment boards and on workforce development issues is critical.”

Gov. John Kitzhaber has already asked state workforce investment boards to streamline their programs and make the process simpler and easier for job seekers, including referring them to services such as food stamps for which they may be eligible, he said.

“A lot of the improvements in this act are what the governor is asking us to do on a state level,” Bolken said.

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com