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Administration Urges Creation of Skill-Standards Board

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WASHINGTON--The Clinton Administration last week endorsed creation of a national board to help guide the development and adoption of voluntary skill standards and certificates for specific industries.

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich said there is "clear, broad-based support for the federal government to act as a catalyst in the development of voluntary, industry-based skill standards.''

Advocates say such standards could provide students entering the labor force with better information on the competencies required to compete for high-wage jobs. In addition, young people who completed youth apprenticeships and other rigorous school-to-work transition programs could use the certificates to verify their skills to employers.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the committee, proposed a bill last session to create a national board, but it was opposed by the Bush Administration.

According to Mr. Reich, the new board would unite representatives of business, labor, education, and others with a stake in the development of the American workforce. Private-sector representatives should form a majority of board members, he suggested.

The Administration has not provided specifics in terms of the board's funding or composition. But Senator Kennedy is expected to reintroduce his bill shortly, which is expected to reflect the Administration's views.

Mr. Reich testified that the system of skill standards would be guided by five basic principles:

  • Standards must be voluntary, not government mandates.
  • Standards must be designed with private-sector leadership, including employers and employees.
  • The process must knit together and integrate, but not duplicate, much of the work already carried out in industry, by the states, or by the education system.
  • Standards must be free from gender, racial, and other bias.
  • Standards must be national, or portable between states.

Broadly defined skill standards would be the "cornerstone of our workforce-development system,'' Mr. Reich said.

"When connected to educational standards,'' he argued, "they will help create a seamless system of lifelong learning opportunities, with certificates of mastery and competency that are accepted and rewarded by employers.''

The United States, he noted, is the only industrialized nation without a formal system for developing and disseminating such standards.--L.O.

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