October 17, 2019
Today, U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced S. 2620, the Generating Real Opportunities for Workforce Training and Hiring (GROWTH) Act. This legislation will support career and technical education opportunities, consistent communication between career and technical education institutions regarding curriculum, and the importance for elementary and secondary education institutions to highlight enrollment in these professions as desirable high-skill, high wage occupations. Rep. Kevin Hern (OK-01) introduced the companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“Our economy is booming and more people are employed than ever before,” Inhofe said. “However, industries in my state still struggle to find workers with the skillsets necessary to excel and grow. With the GROWTH Act, we can change that. The GROWTH Act addresses a multitude of workforce development areas, providing real, tangible opportunities for young people to choose high-paying, skilled careers. In doing this, businesses will have plenty of incentive to invest back into the workforce.”
“We need to do more to train our students and workers in the technical skills that employers are looking for, including the construction trades,” said Heinrich. “I’m proud to join Senator Inhofe in advancing these proposals to build a stronger workforce pipeline for high-demand, high-paying careers. I’m also pleased that this legislation includes provisions to help military spouses, who sacrifice so much to help service members, advance their careers. I will continue working to advance proposals that make our economy work better for all American families.”
“Workforce development has been a priority of mine since before coming to Congress,” Hern said. “I’ve spent the last year meeting with skilled-career employers and technical educators to learn what their needs are and how we can close the skills gap. This bill is a tremendous step towards that goal. Almost everyone I spoke with pointed to the same issues: communication between employers and educators, and awareness of technical careers for students. This bill addresses those shortcomings and puts our students on the path to stable employment and high paying jobs. Additionally, this bill will help military spouses pay for vocational schools and helps small businesses gain access to capital, two key points ensuring a strong workforce.”
The GROWTH Act will:
Expand qualified use of 529 Education Savings plans
Currently, 529 plans are tax-free accounts that can be used for college tuition and related expenses, like text books. The GROWTH Act would allow 529 Education Savings plans to be used towards educational loans at career and technical schools. It would also expand the qualified use of the plans to include transportation expenses to and from career and technical schools, a significant benefit for rural states like Oklahoma.
Establish Highway Construction Workforce Development Grants
Workforce development is the top priority for the transportation construction industry. The GROWTH Act would direct the Secretary of Transportation to provide grants to encourage workforce development in the field and encourage cooperation between the Federal Highway Administration, state departments of transportation, local schools and the private sector to educate and employ the next generation of transportation construction professionals.
Create initiatives to encourage military spouse professional development
The GROWTH Act includes two provisions specifically to promote professional development opportunities for military spouses. First, the bill extends a DOD program that reimburses spouses for the cost of obtaining a new professional license or credential after a permanent change of station. Too many spouses face extended unemployment after a relocation because of the time and resources it takes to reestablish professional licenses and this legislation would alleviate some of the barriers they face.
Additionally, the GROWTH Act includes language that requires DOD to expand a program that would jumpstart careers for junior military spouses by providing a scholarship that would cover certain education benefits. This legislation would expand the eligibility criteria of the program to include more spouses, and to include vocational schools, professional licensing exams and costs and supervision hours as education covered by the scholarship.
Expand the goals of SBA’s 504 Loan Guaranty Program
SBA’s 504 Loan Program offers small businesses alternative business financing in the form of long- term, fixed rate loans used for business growth and job creation. The GROWTH Act adds “workforce development” as an additional public policy goal of the SBA’s 504 Loan Program and allows a small business to be eligible for 504 Loan assistance if it maintains a documented in-house training program of at least 12 weeks or the business has entered into a workforce development contract for the same purpose.
Full text of the bill can be found here.
In August, Inhofe announced plans to introduce the GROWTH Act in Oklahoma City. He was joined by local community and business leaders to speak to the need of enhancing workforce development.