President Seeks to Increase Job Training Opportunities for America’s Unskilled Workers

On Thursday, July 18, the president signed an executive order that creates the Council for the American Worker. Led by the secretaries of commerce and labor, the Council is expected to focus on reorganizing federal workforce development programs and generating funding for new job training initiatives, especially apprenticeships and older worker training.

This initiative comes as business and industry are reporting a shortage of qualified workers to fill the nearly six million job vacancies. Of the 6.6 million Americans who are unemployed, most lack the skills and education to fill current job openings, according to the nation’s business leaders.

According to the White House, twenty-three private-sector companies and trade unions have come together to create up to four million apprenticeships, and retraining and continuing education slots over the next five years. If this effort succeeds, the president and many business leaders believe the current skills shortage among America’s workers can be addressed.

The initiative would also bring together representatives from business and industry, unions, and state governments to examine the range of federal workforce development programs and better align them to meet the labor demands of the private sector.

Unfortunately, the initiative feels a bit like “déjà vu all over again.” The very things that the president has tasked the private and public sectors with in this initiative were what led to the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) and lie at the heart of what local workforce investment boards do every day.

For more than a decade, Congress discussed and debated what needed to be done to ensure that the nation’s workforce system operated effectively. Four years ago, Congress passed and then President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The law received strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and passed overwhelmingly (415 – 6 and 95 – 3, respectively).

The result is a system that ensures that:

  • Workforce development areas and labor markets, to the extent feasible, are co-terminus;
  • Workforce development programs provide services to anyone seeking job assistance –veterans, youth, persons with disabilities, dislocated workers, people in poverty, and food stamp recipients, to name just a few;
  • Job search and job training assistance is available through locally-based one-stop workforce centers, which bring together training and support programs from throughout the federal government rather than from one department or funding stream; and
  • Local leaders – both elected and appointed — work with business and industry to identify employer needs and provide the kinds of job training, education, and supportive services through the local one-stop that are necessary to help employers fill job vacancies.

Should we be duplicating or replacing an existing program before we know its impact on local and national employment trends? The desire to reorganize or reimagine the job training system is really part of a larger attempt to cut federal funding for job training programs. And the other question is why establish a jobs council without including local elected and appointed officials who are directly responsible for implementing and operating workforce development programs?

Despite these questions, we should not minimize the importance of this effort. Workers’ wages have decreased over the past forty years, with the most dramatic effect on prime-aged males with limited skills. Their median annual earnings have fallen by twenty-eight percent since 1969. Post-secondary education, healthcare, and childcare are out of reach for a large portion of Americans.  And much of this is tied to the lack of skills of these workers, who often need to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. So, it is clear, something must be done. President Trump’s proposal is in its infancy, and how it plays out will tell us a lot more about what was intended and what is possible. We welcome the administration’s efforts to ensure that all Americans have the skills they need to be productive, working Americans.

2018 NARC Achievement Awards Winners

At every Annual Conference and Exhibition, NARC celebrates membership achievements of regional excellence and cooperation across the nation. This year’s winners exemplify many qualities that a 21st-century regional council needs to be successful, including innovation, adaptability, collaboration, and hard work. Read more about our 2018 NARC Major Metro, Medium Metro, and Rural Achievement Awards Winners below:

Major Metro Winner: Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG)
Headquarters: Detroit, Michigan
Project: Water Resources Plan

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) won the 2018 Major Metro Achievement Award for their Water Resources Plan. The plan focuses on three major pillars of water planning in the region: “Blue Economy,” Natural Resources, and Infrastructure. “Blue Economy” recognizes the importance of the region’s water assets and supports water placemaking efforts to enhance water recreation opportunities and support the economic development of water-dependent industries. The Natural Resources pillar highlights threats to natural resources such as invasive species and prioritizes strategies to eliminate them, as well as protect wetlands, riparian corridors, and aquatic habitats. Finally, the Infrastructure pillar addresses the region’s drinking water, wastewater, storm water, dams, and transportation infrastructure.

The plan’s breadth and depth make it a very useful part of the region’s toolkit for addressing water infrastructure needs. It outlines specific policy recommendations and actions related to protecting water resources in Southeast Michigan, many of which will be incorporated into SEMCOG’s planning efforts, like their 2045 Regional Transportation Plan. Implementation of the innovative Water Resources Plan is already underway through several projects. Looking forward, SEMCOG will work with the state to map and inventory all existing and historical wetlands, helping inform decisions made about wetland restoration and protection. Congratulations to SEMCOG on their excellent Water Resources Plan!

Medium Metro Winner: Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG)
Headquarters: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Project: Regional Advocacy Program

INCOG’s 2018 Medium Metro Achievement Award-winning advocacy program exemplifies regional cooperation and proves that unifying a regional message is more effective than individual efforts to pass legislation. This INCOG program is unique in its four-pronged approach to regional advocacy:

  • Hosting the Coalition of Tulsa Area Governments (CTAC), an active group of county and municipal governments who advocate for issues that directly affect their member governments;
  • Developing an annual federal policy issue agenda that identifies issues important to the region, which then informs the development of their Congressional Delegation Information Packet and conversations with Oklahoma’s federal representatives;
  • Holding an annual reception and orientation meetings to start building relationships with newly-elected state and federal officials; and
  • Working through their OneVoice Legislative Program with the Tulsa Regional Chamber to develop an annual state and federal legislative agenda embraced by public and private partners alike.

Since 2000, more than 65 CTAC bills have been signed by the governor, with countless more bills killed that harm local governments. CTAC’s slate of issues require unanimous support from all members to initiate or oppose a legislative change, creating an expectation that disagreements will be resolved in favor of the larger group and the greater good. The OneVoice agenda is also a product of more than 400 individuals – which 70 organizations, including INCOG, routinely endorse – that governors and legislators find invaluable as an indication of regional consensus on significant legislative issues. Congratulations to INCOG on their inspiring Regional Advocacy Program!

Medium Metro Winner: Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC)
Headquarters: Portage, Indiana
Project: Greenways + Blueways 2020 Plan

NIRPC’s Greenways + Blueways 2020 Plan, which won them the Medium Metro Achievement Award, highlights the benefits and relationships of both environmental and non-motorized transportation planning through three main topics: conservation, recreation, and transportation. The plan is the product of a significant public engagement process and cooperation among governmental, advocate, and corporate stakeholders. It merges typically distinct planning focus areas to highlight opportunities for integration. The plan identifies conservation corridors along waterways and large but fragmented patches of conservation land, and highlights over 160 miles of land-based, multi-use recreation trails across the Northwest Indiana landscape. The plan includes a chapter on merging these focus areas and a chapter on implementation that identifies performance measures and outlines eight stakeholder groups that can help put them into practice. The Greenways + Blueways Plan is an ambitious vision for tying together mutually beneficial focus areas to advance regional priorities of conservation and non-motorized transportation planning. Congratulations to NIRPC on their impressive G&B 2020 Plan!

Rural Achievement Award Winner: Heartland Regional Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) Headquarters: Bartow, Florida
Project: Highlands Transit Plan

HRTPO developed the Highlands Transit Plan through a collaborative planning process, engaging thousands of citizens over a 10-month study period and winning them the 2018 Rural Achievement Award. It is the first adopted transit development plan for Highlands County, Florida, which has no existing public transit system. Because of its successful campaign, HRTPO can confidently use their results to inform their strategic vision, which will guide the planning, development, and implementation of future public transportation services.

HRTPO used several approaches to gather feedback from their residents on their plan. Rather than focusing on public meetings, they placed an emphasis on education and participation where they knew people were – online, at work, civic activities, and community events. An informal “street team” of volunteers distributed surveys to their neighbors, co-workers, church members, and friends to help expand their reach, resulting in the collection of over 900 survey responses. The first public involvement phase identified the community’s public transportation and potential service options by conducting 27 stakeholder interviews, collecting 771 transportation needs survey responses, putting out a PSA on a Spanish language radio station, producing a one-hour segment on local talk radio, and hosting a booth at the Highlands County Fair for 10 days. Outreach strategies for the second phase, proposing service options for public input and prioritization, included: 100+ engagements at the Blueberry Festival, 156 service options surveys collected, two newspaper articles on plan development, and 20 attendees at a transit forum. Congratulations to HRTPO on their impressive outreach efforts that informed their Highlands Transit Plan!

State Perspectives on Regulating Background Ozone

On June 21, the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on State Perspectives on Regulating Background Ozone. Among those called to testify was Diane Rath, executive director of the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) in San Antonio, Texas. She provided background on the great progress the San Antonio-New Braunfels Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has made over the years in reducing ozone, and explained some of the complicated factors used to calculate the region’s ozone levels.

For AACOG and other regions facing variables outside of their control, federal ozone standards should be flexible enough to account for background ozone in trying to maintain healthy air quality for their citizens.

Regional Success in Reducing Ozone Levels

“The San Antonio-New Braunfels MSA has experienced significant improvement in its ozone levels in the last several years, with nearly a 20 percent decline in design value from 91 parts per billion (ppb) in 2004 to 73 ppb in 2016,” Ms. Rath noted in her testimony. “These improvements occurred despite a population increase of over 568,000 across the eight-county MSA during that period.”

When discussing what led to this drastic reduction in ozone levels, Ms. Rath stated that “the region’s success in improving ozone levels is due in large part to local voluntary public and private partnerships.” Some of the efforts noted in her written testimony included:

  • Bexar County and Cities of San Antonio, Leon Valley, and Seguin Anti-Idling Ordinances;
  • Participating in the Texas Emission Reduction Program (TERP) to facilitate turnover of older and dirtier diesel engines and engaging in community outreach to spread awareness of TERP among local industry and business leaders;
  • VIA Metropolitan Transit (VIA) began converting its diesel bus fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG) in April 2017 (VIA’s new CNG fueling facility is the largest in North America); and
  • Investments in the latest technology by both the energy industry in the Eagle Ford shale and the cement industry to reduce emissions.
Outside Influences on AACOG’s Ozone Levels

Improving the region’s ozone levels were complicated by multiple variables outside of AACOG’s control. According to Ms. Rath, tropical cyclones landfalling in the southeastern U.S. can cause spikes in local ozone levels, citing the example of Hurricane Irma as an instance where landfall in Florida triggered a high ozone event in San Antonio.

She also stated that “79.5 percent of San Antonio’s ozone is caused by emissions and transport from outside the San Antonio-New Braunfels MSA, that is, outside of local control.” The pie chart below used du

ring Ms. Rath’s opening testimony breaks down the contribution to San Antonio area ozone by geographic region.

background ozone

Questions from Congress

In response to questions from the Committee, Ms. Rath noted that San Antonio has taken aggressive actions to remain in attainment with the 2008 NAAQS. CPS Energy (a municipally-owned electric utility company) implemented cost-saving programs that resulted in savings equal to shutting down a medium-sized coal plant. CPS Energy produced 1500 megawatts of renewable energy capacity two years ahead of schedule, and are shutting down the Deely plant the region’s largest and oldest coal-powered plant.

The AACOG region faces a low estimate of over $117 million annually, and the high estimate is over $1 billion annually in economic consequences of a nonattainment designation. For every year we are in nonattainment, there is the potential for our eight-county MSA to incur over $1 billion in costs.

In addition, the impact of international ozone be taken into consideration when applying NAAQS to various regions in the U.S. How can you hold a community or region responsible for what is totally and completely outside of its control? Ms. Rath noted. If international transport was considered in measuring ozone levels, the region would be well under the limit.

Ms. Rath’s testimony and answers acknowledged the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone but emphasized the adverse impacts of overly broad standards on regions, especially the San Antonio area. She urged Congress to “take advantage of the flexibility in the Clean Air Act to evaluate and actively consider during NAAQS designation the impact of background ozone levels and all foreign transport on a region.” This would be a step closer to ensuring that regional projects and economies don’t shoulder the full burden of nonattainment from factors outside their control.