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Bipartisan Bill Encourages Development Of Training Programs for High-Skills Jobs

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By Julie A. Miller

WASHINGTON--A bipartisan group of lawmakers last week introduced legislation intended to stimulate the creation of programs to train youths for high-skill jobs, establish occupational-proficiency standards, and require employers to invest in ongoing worker training.

The proposal is based on a report issued in June 1990 by the National Commission on the Skills of the American Work Force, entitled "America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages."

The panel, made up of prominent business, education, and labor leaders, called for a new strategy to upgrade the skills of "front-line workers"--the majority of employees who work in non-managerial positions and do not have college degrees. (See Education Week, June 20, 1990.)

"This legislation is not a new, centralized federal program, but an effort to catalyze and stimulate activities best carried out at the state and local level and in the private sector," said the bill's primary sponsor, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Statements of support were issued by several governors, as well as business groups, the National Urban League, and organizations representing trade schools and junior colleges.

The bill would provide a total authorization of $680 million in its first year, although actual funding would probably be substantially less.

Bill's Provisions

The bill would:

  • Establish a "National Board for Professional and Technical Standards" and advisory panels to develop occupational-proficiency standards, assessment tools, and training curricula; in addition, the Education Department would be authorized to research and demonstrate a similar system for elementary and secondary students.
  • Authorize $60 million to support demonstration programs that pro- vide high-school students with curricula combining academics with hands-on occupational training.
  • Support creation of youth centers that offer job placement and centers that provide high-school dropouts with counseling and skill training. . Authorize $45 million for the National Science Foundation to develop high-school technology curricula and partnerships between industry and higher education.
  • Require companies with 20 or more employees to pay 1 percent of total wages into a fund for training programs, unless they had already expended at least 1 percent of wages on worker training during a preceding three-year period.
  • Make permanent a tax exclusion for employer-provided educational aid.
  • Support the creation of training consortia among businesses in the same industry.
  • Authorize the Labor Department to aid businesses in using "high-performance work organization."

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