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Column: Giving job seekers the skills to succeed

There are currently 12 million Americans still searching for employment. Of these, 5 million or 40 percent of the unemployed population are considered unemployed long-term, meaning they have been searching for work for more than 27 weeks.

A report released earlier this month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates there are millions of unfilled positions across America. So, why the large discrepancy?

We have a broken federal workforce development system that costs us valuable taxpayer dollars and hinders the very people it was intended to serve. The federal government spends more than $18 billion on this workforce system each year, but the uncoordinated and confusing web of job-training programs, spanning over nine federal agencies and including more than 50 employment and training programs, continues to leave workers ill-equipped to transfer their training into meaningful and quality careers.

These programs must be held accountable not only to those individuals utilizing them, but also all American taxpayers. The current system is difficult to navigate and isn't producing the results taxpayers deserve.

In fact, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has identified more than half of these programs as redundant and ineffective. Yet, they continue to be offered. Furthermore, only five of these programs have been evaluated. This does not mean they were identified as actually being effective, but that they had simply been evaluated.

Only a small percentage of those served by the current system actually receive technical skills training. Instead, a significant portion are taught interview techniques or resume building tips, which while valuable in their own right, are arguably less valuable than job-specific training in a technologically evolving economy.

In order to close this skills gap, the House of Representatives recently passed the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act with my proud support. The SKILLS Act will modernize these programs to ensure they are tailored to the specific needs of today's workforce.

This legislation focuses on in-demand industries, enhances opportunities for individuals to be placed in quality, well-paying private sector jobs, and is responsive to the needs of employers, so economic growth can be sustained.

The SKILLS Act streamlines and simplifies the current workforce development system to ensure programs are actually serving the people they were designed to support.

It also enables our small businesses, the lifeblood of our nation's economy and the backbone of both Florida's and the Tampa Bay area's economies, to have the flexibility they need to continue developing training and career opportunities for their employees here at home.

Now, more than ever, we must take meaningful steps toward getting America back to work and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently. The SKILLS Act does both.

Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis, a Republican, represents Florida's 12th District in the U.S. Congress. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Column: Giving job seekers the skills to succeed 03/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 18, 2013 5:19pm]
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