On Senate Floor, Portman Highlights Need to Pass Bipartisan JOBS Act to Increase Access to Job Training Programs

March 27, 2019 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke on the Senate Floor highlighting his bipartisan Jumpstart Our Businesses By Supporting Students (JOBS) Act, legislation he introduced with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) that would help students access training for the 7.3 million vacant jobs that are unfilled in part due to a shortage of qualified workers. The JOBS Act would close this “skills gap” by expanding eligibility for Pell Grants to cover high-quality and rigorous short-term job training programs so workers can afford the skills training and credentials that are in high-demand in today’s job market. 

A transcript of his remarks is below and a video can be found here. 

“I’m here on the floor today to talk about career and technical education and specifically legislation we’ve introduced that would provide a lot more training opportunities for people who need these in-demand jobs that are out there. When people hear about career and technical education sometimes they wonder what we’re referring to. This is really high school programs, used to be called vocational education for many in my generation, they might remember it as that. But it’s not your father’s Oldsmobile, it’s not the old Voc-Ed programs you might remember. 

“In fact, it’s really impressive. If you go to these CTE schools today, and Ohio luckily has a lot of great career and technical academies and schools, you’ll see something amazing. You’ll see young people being trained up for some of the most sophisticated jobs out there: in bioscience, technology, welding of course, and manufacturing in Ohio is a big deal. But also truck drivers to get a CDL, a commercial truck driving license. You might see somebody there who is interested in going into firefighting or EMS. This morning I had a chance to visit with a young man who is in a CTE program where he immediately is going to be hired by a fire department. These are great opportunities for our young people. 

“Right now, these CTE schools are incredibly important because the skills are needed, the training is needed. One of the challenges that we’ve had is sometimes parents who are advising their kids are saying, ‘You need to go to a four-year college or university like I did or maybe like your uncle or aunt did,’ or maybe that’s the goal they have for their kids, and that’s fine. For many young people that’s appropriate. But for others, what a great opportunity to be able to get out of high school, get a job immediately, a good-paying job with good benefits and then at some point, because often in these schools, including in Ohio, you get college credit while you’re in high school to go on to college later. And perhaps your employer will pay for that. 

“This morning I was with a young woman named Jordan. She is at the Great Oaks Career and Technical Center in Southwest Ohio. Jordan is becoming a welder. She is going to have amazing opportunities. She does. She’s got plenty of job opportunities for her because she is going to have the skill so badly needed in Ohio right now. Our manufacturing sector is desperate for welders and they’re willing to pay good money for welders so she can make $45,000, $50,000 a year with good benefits at 18 years old as a welder instead of taking on student debt, and in Ohio it is about $27,000 on average, somebody graduating from community college or a four-year college or university is taking on significant debt. So this is an opportunity for us to get more young people into career and technical education. I think we ought to do it. 

“We have a good economy right now, thanks to tax reform and regulatory relief. There’s a lot of hiring going on. There’s actually higher wages right now. In Ohio, we have a number of people who are looking for employees. The help wanted signs are out there. We have about 148,000 jobs available in the state, if you look at Ohiomeansjobs.com, a website that offers these positions. There are about 250,000 Ohioans out of work. How does that make sense? It makes sense because if you look at the jobs that are being offered many of them are jobs where you have to have a skill, you have to be a coder or you have to be a machine operator or a welder or you have to have some bioscience background to be a tech. If we had the skills training, we’d be able to fill these jobs, which would be great for the companies and for the economy, but also just, again, a great opportunity for these young people. In 2018, our economy added 223,000 jobs per month on average. That’s about twice what the pre-tax reform baseline was from the Congressional Budget Office of only 107,000 jobs per month. We more than doubled the job growth. We’ve also had strong wage growth over the last 12 months. Wage growth in the last year is higher than any time in the last decade. 

“In Ohio, frankly, for a decade and a half we’ve had flat wages. Finally, we’re now seeing wages going up. Last month the average was about 3.4 percent growth for private-sector workers. By the way, more for blue-collar workers than for white-collar workers, supervisory workers, which is all good news. 

“So we’ve got a lot of good things going on in terms of increasing jobs, increasing wages, increasing benefits. Much of that just due to tax reform. I have gone around our state and talked to folks at roundtable discussions. I’ve been to more than 25 businesses to ask specifically, ‘What did you do with the tax savings?’ Every one of them has a great story. But with all of these pro-growth policies kicking in, again the thing I’m hearing now is that ‘tax reform helped us, the regulatory relief was a good idea, but we need workers, we need people and we need them to have the skills to fill the jobs that we have.’ This mismatch between the skills that are out there and these jobs, that skills gap is what we need to close. There are lots of ways to do that. 

“If you look at the National Skills Coalition, they’ll estimate that nearly half of all job openings between now and 2022 will be middle-skill jobs that require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree. So again, career and technical opportunities in high school. And then when you get out of high school to have a certificate where you can get into a course where you can learn how to do one of these skills. Although you’re not getting an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, you’re getting a certificate, often a stackable certificate, that can lead to a degree later. That’s what’s going to be really needed. If you look at the skills gap right now, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute have highlighted that fact that there are so many jobs out there that need these skills. They estimate there are about 2.4 million positions that will likely be unfilled between 2018 and 2028. And this economic impact, not having these jobs filled, is about a $2.5 trillion hit to our economy. This is why all of this is so important. 

“About six years ago we started the Career and Technical Caucus here in the Senate. There was two of us, Senator Kaine from Virginia and myself and now we are have 27 senators on the CTE Caucus. Why? Because members are hearing back home about this and this has been good to raise awareness for career and technical education. It’s been helpful for us to be able to put together some bipartisan legislation that helps to promote career and technical education. Last year in the Perkins bill, for instance, Senator Kaine and I got legislation in that helps to improve the quality of CTE programs all around the country, ensuring again that college credit can be offered helping to hold up these programs to make sure that young people and their parents know about this opportunity. 

“Just a couple of week ago, Senator Kaine and I reintroduced legislation called Jump-start Our Businesses by Supporting Students Act. That acronym is the JOBS Act. And the JOBS Act is something we’ve introduced in the last couple of Congresses. But I really feel like its time has come. I feel like it’s an opportunity right now for us to move forward with the JOBS Act. One, because we’re hearing from all around the country the need for this, but, second, because we have the likelihood of a higher education bill moving this year, which would be a perfect place to put the JOBS Act. It’s a really common-sense solution to help solve this skills gap problem we’re talking about because it says very simply with regard to Pell grants, which is for low-income students, instead of just making them available for community college or for four-year colleges, universities or for longer-term courses, why not allow Pell Grants to be used for shorter-term training programs. That is what is needed right now. 

“I think this is really a fairness issue. When I talk to students, as I did this morning here in Washington, as I do back in the state of Ohio, what they tell me is, ‘Rob, I don’t have the money to get a driver’s license sometimes, to go through that process much less to get a certificate to become a welder or to become a coder or a tech in a hospital setting. And yet the government will give me a Pell Grant for me to go to a junior college or a community college or a university, but I can’t get a Pell Grant to help me get the training I need to actually get out there to get a job that I know is right there ready, good pay, good benefits.’ To me, that shows how our system is not working with regard to the modern economy and the needs that we have right now. And it’s not fair to those students. So I think we ought to be able to allow those students to use those Pell Grants for theses shorter-term training programs of less than 15 weeks. 

“I also think it is a matter of efficiency for the Pell Grant and the taxpayer. Unfortunately with regard to Pell most people who take a Pell who go to school, go to a college, don’t graduate, and there are lots of reasons for that. I think the main reason is many of them have to drop out because they have to work, but in the meantime they don’t have the degree. So they have the Pell but they don’t get the degree, not even a certificate, whereas in the short-term training programs, 15-week training programs, trust me, if somebody starts off one of these training programs, it is much more likely that they’re going to wind up getting the certificate. Again, they can see just around the corner where the job is. The certificate is, in a sense, the ticket to that job and it is a shorter-term prospect. So I think it’s a very efficient use also of the Pell Grant and we should expand the Pell Grant. Let’s not take it away from colleges and universities, not at all. The Pell Grant is an important program, but let’s allow it to be used for the short-term training programs. 

“I was at the CT program in Akron, Ohio recently. I also went to Stark State community college. They have a new campus there. We had a roundtable on workforce development. We had a lot of local businesses there who were talking about how great these programs have been for them. We had students there, we had the Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor of Akron, Dan Horrigan was there and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro. I heard from some of those students who were already working, in high school and in college in this community college for some of the local employers. Businesses like the K company which is a HVAC company based in Akron, they work with Stark State and local high schools and get young people on the right educational track to be able to work in the HVAC field, where there are plenty of jobs right now. If you’re an HVAC tech, you can get a job. It’s been a great example where they are helping the economy, they are helping this particular business, they are really helping these students to be able to get a great job. 

“The Stark State president, Dr. Para Jones, is very innovative and working again with our high schools and working with the business community trying to ensure we’re all working together on this. I’ll tell you, Dr. Jones, the employers who were around that table, the educators around the table, the students around the table, all of them were really excited about the JOBS Act. Because they know it will work. They know this will help them deal with exactly the kind of problems they are seeing in the local community. 

“Last week I also toured a company in Hubbard, Ohio, called Warren Fabricating and Machining. As always, I heard about the need for skilled workers. It’s a great example of a company that has taken full advantage of the tax reform and tax cuts. They bought a beautiful new machine that is incredibly important for their effectiveness as a company to be table to compete with China and others, they’ve been able to raise people’s salaries and increase the benefits with their tax savings. But their issue now is getting the workforce. They want to operate at full capacity but they can’t find the people. They’ve got openings right now. 

“I also visited an advanced manufacturer called Rhinestahl Corporation in Mason, right outside of Cincinnati. They manufacture high precision parts for the aerospace and defense industry. Other employers were there, as well as Butler Tech, which is a local CTE program which has done real incredible work, really innovative. There I had an opportunity to meet with a lot of students and one of them was a high school student named Jake. He’s a chemical operator at a nearby manufacturer called Pilot. He’s a veteran, he’s completed his certificate training and his employer is now paying for him to continue his education and to be able to get a degree while he is working for them. 

“Connor was there, a high school student running machines and learning advanced manufacturing while working at a place called RB Tool. Torres, a 19 year old who went through that program, is now in charge of calibration and making sure precision tools are up to speed at these company called Rhinestahl. The teacher of all these students, a guy named Dave Fox was there. He said that his last class of 28 graduates had a combined total of 100 job offers. Think about this. These are young people going through these certificate programs, 28 young people, they had more than 100 job offers. Again, these are good job offers, we’re talking about $40,000, $50,000 a year, jobs that pay $18-$20 an hour and good benefits. And again a lot of employers will also continue to pay for them to continue their education, should they choose to do so. 

“Just last week, President Trump came to the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio. This is an incredible manufacturing company that does something pretty unique in America, which is they build tanks. So the kind of welding they have to be trained on is incredibly sophisticated, difficult to do. The kind of machine work they have to do is really difficult, cutting the tanks’ steel is an incredibly difficult task plus some other alloys that they use to protect our troops out in the field. They need to hire about 400 additional workers in the next year or so. Partly because with the defense buildup we’re putting more money into the plant, and I’m very pleased to say that President Trump in his budget put more funding into the Lima Tank plant for this year, but we need workers. They need help training people. They need skilled welders, machinists, assembly workers, various types of engineers. Again, these are good-paying jobs, great opportunities for young people whether they are coming up through the ranks, through their high school or mid-career and changing jobs, it would be great for us to help them get the people they need.  And the JOBS Act, they all say, would be exactly what they need to help do that. 

“At a roundtable discussion at Staub Manufacturing in Dayton recently, the CEO of the company told me that he believes welders coming out of high school will be better off financially than many attorneys or doctors. I asked him what he meant by that. He pointed out that while an attorney or another professional might make more coming out of school, by the time they get out of school, law school as an example, and get out of debt and start investing, that welders are well on their way to building a significant nest egg. That’s true when you think about it.  A welder makes $50,000 a year starting at age 18. Let’s say no student debt because, again, through the certificate program and through a Pell if we get the JOBS Act passed in particular, this person’s able to be table to do so without any student debt.  

“Using an online calculator and assuming about 8 percent growth, that individual sets aside 10 percent of their income for retirement at the age of 18 up to age 67. This assumes that a person gets no raise at all, which of course that’s not going to happen. The person will get a higher salary over time as that person gets more seniority. But assuming no raise, $50,000 a year, $2.8 million in retirement savings at age 67. That is a nice nest egg to be able to live comfortably in retirement with peace of mind. Compare that to an attorney making $100,000 a year at a big law firm, starts investing it at 30 years old after getting through school, paying off debt.  That person sets aside 10 percent of his or her income will produce $2.2 million by age 67. Even though the attorney had a higher salary and was investing twice as much each month, it’s the welder making $50,000 a year that will be better off. 

“Part of this is getting people into these jobs, getting them into these jobs when they are young where they can make investments in their retirement, but also make investments in a car, be able to buy a house, able to put money aside for their kids’ education.  Just to be able to have that peace of mind that comes with knowing that you will have this profession and this opportunity to get ahead early in life. So I’m hoping that we can get the JOBS Act passed because it will help provide so many people, particularly young people, these opportunities if we can shift the paradigm. You know, stop this notion of thinking that everybody who is going through high school needs to go to a four-year college or university right away. 

“Instead think about how do you ensure that this young person can have an opportunity to get ahead in life and learn a skill where there is an immediate need and actually help our economy, because our biggest challenge right now as I see, not just in the manufacturing sector where it is particularly obvious, but across the board in bioscience certainly moving, truck driving and other professions, the biggest challenge we have right now is workforce. So this would do both. The JOBS Act has been endorsed now by the National Skills Coalition, the Association of Career and Technical Education, and the Association of Community Colleges. I know the community colleges have put this highest on their list. And the American Association of Community Colleges and other groups. 

“I’m also pleased to say again it’s in President Trump’s budget. This year’s budget actually has our JOBS Act included in it. So it’s one that is totally bipartisan. Senator Kaine from Virginia and I have been co-authors of this legislation over the years, we continue to work closely together on this. We have 10 cosponsors already, having just introduced this a couple of weeks ago. It’s a bipartisan group, mixed Republican and Democrat. We also have a lot of outside stakeholders supporting it and, again, now in the president’s budget. 

“The reason we’re getting all this support is that it works. It works. It will cover programs that at a minimum require 150 hours and eight weeks to complete. There’s some alternative programs that limit the programs by requiring them to be 320 hours. I will just tell you our community colleges tell us that none of their short-term training programs would qualify for that higher number of hours. Programs like welding, precision machining, electrical trades, all those programs will fit in the JOBS Act but not in some of the alternatives that are being discussed. 

“We need the JOBS Act now, and we think there is a great vehicle for it, which is the Higher Education Act this year. By the way, a big fan of career and technical education is the chairman of that committee, Senator Lamar Alexander. He understands the need for us to provide the kind of skills training that’s needed to fill the jobs that are out there that companies are desperate to fill. He sees this in his own state of Tennessee where he has a lot of manufacturing jobs, including auto manufacturers who are looking for more skilled workers every day. 

“As we work to reauthorize that legislation, the Higher Education Act, my hope is that colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join us in ensuring that the JOBS Act is included in that. Let’s be sure that we do deal with the fairness issue here, that we have a sense of understanding about our economy and what the needs are right now and a lot of that need is in skills and the kind of skills that the JOBS Act would provide. It just makes too much sense. 

If we make career and technical education a priority, if we enact the JOBS Act I just discussed today, we will help tens of thousands of our young people be able to achieve their dreams, have better opportunities and just as important we’re going to be able to help our economy. Help to ensure that we do have, here in the United States, a growing economy where we have better tax policy, better regulation policy but also the workers to ensure companies don’t pick up and move because they don’t have the workforce here. 

As companies tell me in Ohio, ‘Rob, we could do what we’re doing here in other places and not just Indiana which is next to Ohio but maybe India.’ We don’t want that. We want to have the workforce here that is needed to be able to keep these good jobs and keep these companies here in this country to ensure we can keep moving in a positive direction. And again, ensure that Ohioans can develop the skills they need to grow the career of their choice and to fulfill their potential in life.”