The U.S. skilled technical workforce development system is characterized by many, often competing, sources of authority and enforcement in government, business, civil society, and private life. The nation has no single, centralized system for developing a skilled technical workforce and—given the dynamics of its political and economic systems—little hope of practically achieving one. Skilled technical workforce development in the United States is the concern and shared responsibility of students; workers; labor unions and other worker associations; families; educators; businesses; industry associations; and the federal, state, and local governments.
In reviewing the public policy context, the first two sections of this chapter take note of the varied policy agenda and landscape for technical skill development. The third section summarizes key federal legislation that shapes federal policy, including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. Next is a review of the Higher Education Act (HEA) and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act), which are under consideration for reauthorization by the U.S. Congress, followed by an overview of state policies on career and technical education. Together, these federal and state policies shape the nation’s complex system of workforce education and training. Broader policy issues related to the development of a skilled technical workforce, including reforms of labor laws and rules governing occupational licensing, improvements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) proficiency, and upgrades to the Workforce Labor Market Information System, are then examined. The final section presents conclusions.
Educating and training a skilled technical workforce is a priority for policy makers at the federal, state, and local levels. Civic leaders, employers, industry
Workforce development is a priority at the federal level. A bipartisan majority of Congress passed WIOA, and in 2014, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum on Job Driven Training for Workers, which tasked Vice President Biden and the secretaries of labor, commerce, and education with developing an action plan to make America’s workforce development system “more job driven, integrated and effective.”1 In response to this directive, the vice president’s task team reviewed what is working best nationwide and delivered a report to the President in July 2014 that includes a seven-point “Job Driven Checklist” (The White House, 2014).
The development of a skilled technical workforce is a top priority that is connected to economic competitiveness for the states’ governors. Over the past 10 years, seven National Governors Association (NGA) chairs have sponsored initiatives that have included an element related to workforce development.2 The 2013-2014 NGA chair, Governor Mary Fallin, tackled the subject in her initiative “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs” (see NGA, 2015a; Simon, 2015). The NGA’s current initiative, the NGA Talent Pipeline project, aims to achieve systemic change to increase the number of U.S. citizens with a postsecondary credential.3 The focus of this initiative, which currently includes 14 states, is on aligning education and workforce development with economic development strategies and the needs of industries.
Workforce development is a concern for U.S. mayors as well. In 1977, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) created a Workforce Development Council as a USCM standing committee to ensure that workforce development would be a key focus of cities.4 The council works to shape legislative and policy agendas related to technical skills development; provide timely information to support these efforts at the local level; and build capacity by creating networks, identifying innovative approaches, and providing technical assistance. Recent meetings reflect a concerted focus on the development of a skilled technical workforce.5
Policy makers’ initiatives at the local, state, and federal levels all seek to engage civic leaders in the private and nonprofit sectors. In addition to employer and trade association initiatives in industries with high numbers of occupations requiring technical skills, such as health care and manufacturing, the committee noted relevant initiatives in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor
1Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Public Law 113-128 (July 22, 2014).
Workforce development policy has a substantial history reflecting the structure of U.S. policy making: it is polycentric, having many centers of decision making and control.6 As Figure 3-1 shows, technical skills development and regulation of labor markets are governed principally by public laws and other policies on education and labor at the federal, state, and local levels. However, they are also a concern for agencies that address health and human services, such as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the advancement of science and technology, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF). Public policies and programs that are concerned with Native Americans (Department of the Interior [DOI]) and military personnel (Department of Defense [DoD]) also address the skills development needs of their constituencies. In addition, several other initiatives, such as the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015, and small business and trade facilitation programs, provide policy direction for certain types of initiatives aimed at skilled technical workforce development.
In addition to state and local programs, several federally funded programs in the United States target specific populations such as ex-offenders, disconnected youth, and displaced or injured workers. For fiscal year (FY) 2009, for example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified 47 federally funded employment and training programs administered across nine agencies (GAO, 2011a; for additional background, see GAO, 2011b,c). However, most direction and funds are provided by a relatively small set of policies and programs at the federal and state levels, and considerable effort has been made to integrate and align these policies in recent years.7
6 For an overview of U.S. job training policy and additional context, see, for example, Decker and Berk (2011) and Holzer (2012). For an analysis of polycentricism in American political and administrative life, see the work of Ostrom (1994, 2008), for example.
7 One of the most obvious examples of efforts to integrate and align federal and state workforce development policies occurred with the enactment of the WIOA. For an overview of these efforts, see Heinrich (2015), as well as The White House (2014). A GAO (2012) report to Congress on the Workforce Investment Act examines efforts to integrate and align state and federal activities prior to WIOA enactment. Policy alignment and integration efforts were also consistently noted in presentations and discussions during the committee’s 2015 symposium and in presentations at committee meetings held
As Table 3-1 shows, federal policy has provided scope for many federally funded employment and training programs that apply to a wide range of workforce development issues and populations. In a review of these programs for FY 2009, the GAO noted that almost all of them overlap with one or more other programs in that they provide at least one similar service to a similar population, although differences may exist in eligibility, objectives, and service
September 10, 2015, and February 17, 2016. A webcast of the symposium, research papers, and presentations can be found at http://nas.edu/SkilledTechnicalWorkforce.
|Department of Labor||
|Department of Education||
|Department of Health and Human Services||
|Department of the Interior||
|Department of Agriculture||
|Department of Defense||
|Environmental Protection Agency||
|Department of Justice||
|Department of Veterans Affairs||
NOTE: SNAP = Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; WANTO = Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations; WIA = Workforce Investment Act.
SOURCE: Testimony of Andrew Sherrill, director of education, workforce, and income security issues, before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives, GAO 11-506T.
delivery (GAO, 2011a). The GAO reports that federal employment and training programs spent approximately $18 billion on employment and training services in FY 2009. However, seven programs accounted for about three-fourths of that spending, and most participants received employment and training services through either the Employment Service/Wagner-Peyser Funded Activities (Employment Service) or the Adult Program of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) (GAO, 2011a, Table 1). Together, these two programs, both of which are administered by the Department of Labor (DOL), served more than
Mary Alice McCarthy of the New America Foundation states that one way to understand federal policy efforts aimed at helping people gain skills for work is to analyze all the funding streams for programs that prepare individuals for a specific occupation, including tuition assistance (McCarthy, 2014). Looking at the sources of federal funding for postsecondary education assistance in 2013, she observes that this funding comes disproportionately from the Title IV federal student aid programs—not from the 47 federal employment and training programs identified by the GAO study and not from the 3 programs dedicated specifically to workforce development and career and technical education.8 As Figure 3-2 shows, of the $145 billion in education assistance provided in 2013, the vast majority ($130.7 billion) was governed by Title IV of HEA, while $10 billion was governed by the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, $2.5 billion by WIOA, $1.1 billion by the Perkins Act, and $575 million by the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (TAA). In McCarthy’s view, postsecondary education is influenced primarily by the goals, policies, and funding of higher education.
To understand the dynamics and incentives of workforce development, it is important to analyze all the policy, program, and funding mechanisms that prepare individuals for specific occupations. As described in more detail in this chapter and in Chapter 4, however, policies, programs, and funding streams for postsecondary skilled technical workforce development are largely under the purview of local- and state-level policy makers and other stakeholders.
The remainder of this section and the section that follows provide an overview of the four federal laws the committee believes are most likely to contribute to synchronizing activities focused on skilled technical workforce development across the nation and provide the greatest support for postsecondary education and training. This section continues by describing recently enacted laws that are directly related to workforce development: WIOA and the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. Congress also recently passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), summarized in Box 3-1, which indirectly affects workforce development.9 The section that follows describes federal policy directly related to workforce development that is currently under deliberation for reauthorization: HEA and the Perkins Act. Both of these reauthorizations could have implications for policies and programs related to skilled technical workforce development.
3.3.1 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
Passed on July 22, 2014, WIOA represents the first major legislative reform of the public workforce system in 15 years. It is designed to help job seekers and workers access employment, education, training, and support services that can help them succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy. WIOA is administered by DOL and the U.S. Department of Education (ED). It supersedes WIA and amends the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Wagner-Peyser Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.10Box 3-2 provides an overview of the purposes of WIOA.
In her review of federal workforce development efforts, presented at the committee’s 2015 symposium, Carolyn Heinrich of Vanderbilt University states that a number of new WIOA provisions appear to be based on evidence of proven and promising strategies, such as incentivizing the development of sectoral training partnerships and requiring active coordination across agencies
9 The text of ESSA can be found at https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senatebill/1177/text. More information about the new law is available at http://www.ed.gov/essa. Developments in career and technical education (CTE) are discussed in more detail in Chapter 4.
in the development of priorities and programs (Heinrich, 2015). Recognizing the local nature of workforce development, WIOA grants states more flexibility to transfer funding between programs.
Observing that WIOA has yet to be fully implemented, Heinrich provides the following suggestions for policy makers:
- Begin training earlier for youth through approaches that blend vocational and on-the-job training, and involve employers as partners in the delivery of the training.
- Provide more funding and technical support to better link secondary, postsecondary, and workforce development data; assess the value of skills acquired in programs; and better direct job seeker training choices and American Job Center strategies.
- Improve data resources and their availability for research, and use these data to develop better performance incentive systems for guiding state and local resource allocations.
- DOL should consider making additional federal funding contingent on service levels to disadvantaged adults and youth, and on expanded training capacities in high-demand fields and for skilled technical jobs.
- DOL should lend greater financial and institutional support to cross-state research efforts and exchanges that seek to test innovative workforce development strategies.
3.3.2 Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 amends federal veterans’ benefits provisions to provide updated and comprehensive educational assistance under the Montgomery GI Bill to individuals in certain length-of-service categories serving on active duty in the armed forces commencing on or after September 11, 2001.11 Congress reports that a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate for this measure has not been received.12 The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that since the bill’s implementation on August 1, 2009, it has provided more than $20 billion in educational benefits to 773,000 veterans and their family members.13 Nearly 1 million eligible individuals participated in FY 2011, a 15 percent increase over FY 2010 and a 71 percent increase over FY 2009. Although the act requires that educational assistance be used within 15 years of an individual’s discharge or release from active duty (with exceptions), it does allow individuals currently under the Montgomery GI Bill educational assistance program to elect to participate in the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance program with respect to any unused entitlement.
Congress notes in findings related to this act that the United States has a history of offering educational assistance to millions of veterans, as demonstrated by the many “GI bills” enacted since World War II. Educational assistance for veterans reduces the costs of war, assists veterans in readjusting to civilian life after wartime service, boosts the U.S. economy, and has a positive effect on recruitment for the armed forces. It is in the national interest for the United States to provide veterans who served on active duty in the armed forces after September 11, 2001, with enhanced educational assistance benefits that are worthy of such service and are commensurate with the educational assistance benefits provided to World War II veterans.
11 The text of H.R.5740, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, is available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/house-bill/5740/text. For additional background on the bill, see Dortch (2014b).
The act supports the development of technical skills in a number of ways. For example, it allows for the pursuit of (1) programs on less than a half-time basis, (2) apprenticeship or other on-the-job training, (3) correspondence courses, (4) flight training, (5) tutorial assistance, and (6) licensure and certification tests. The act also requires the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program, under which colleges and universities may enter into an agreement with the secretary to cover, for certain individuals, a portion of established charges not otherwise covered and to match contributions toward such costs.
3.4.1 The Higher Education Act
HEA, which is administered by ED, authorizes numerous federal aid programs that provide support to individuals who pursue postsecondary education and to institutions of higher education.14 Title IV authorizes the federal government’s major student aid programs, which are the primary source of direct federal support to students who pursue postsecondary education, while Titles II, III, and V provide aid and support to educational institutions. HEA also authorizes services and support for less-advantaged students, students pursuing international education, and students and institutions engaged in certain graduate and professional degree programs. Title VIII supports the goals of improving access to postsecondary education and improving enrollment, persistence, and completion rates for specific groups of students, including veterans.
The rules and regulations governing access to HEA’s financial aid programs, including institutional accreditation and student outcome reporting requirements, play a role in shaping how skilled technical education and training programs are designed and delivered and what is known about labor market outcomes for students. The nature and extent of this role need to be examined in parallel with the roles of local and state policies and programs.
Congress is considering reauthorization of HEA. The last time Congress comprehensively reauthorized the act was in 2008, when it passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA). HEOA authorized most HEA programs through FY 2014 but has been extended while Congress prepares for the next reauthorization (Hegji, 2014). Among the issues likely to be addressed in the final bill are affordability and college costs; access, persistence, and completion; better information for consumers; student loan programs; accreditation and oversight; innovation; and reduction of the burden of federal regulations.
On July 30, 2014, for example, Senator Kaine introduced the Jumpstart our Businesses by Supporting Students Act, which seeks to amend HEA by expanding eligibility for Pell Grants to students enrolled in short-term job-training programs.15 The corresponding press release indicates that the initiative would authorize Pell Grants for job-training programs at community colleges and other institutions of higher education, ensure that qualifying programs align with the needs of local employers and lead to a recognized postsecondary credential, encourage eligible institutions to connect short-term credential programs to career pathways, and provide basic skills instruction to support student success (Kaine, 2015).16
3.4.2 The Perkins Act
The purpose of the Perkins Act is to develop the academic and career and technical skills of secondary and postsecondary education students who enroll in career and technical education (CTE) programs. The act, which is administered by ED, was last authorized on August 12, 2006 (Perkins IV).17 The goals of Perkins IV include the attainment of rigorous academic standards by CTE students, “the integration of secondary and postsecondary CTE elements into single programs of study, and the assessment and accountability of the achievement of educational and post-educational outcomes” (Dortch, 2012). The act’s original authorization period ended on June 30, 2013, and the act is currently scheduled for reauthorization.
Policies, programs, and funding streams for skilled technical workforce development at the state and local levels are extensive and varied. At the K-12 level, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that in 2013-2014, there were 98,271 operational public schools in more than 18,000 districts (NCES, 2015a, Table 2). In the fall of 2011, there were also 30,861 private schools offering kindergarten or higher grades (NCES, 2013a). NCES reports that current expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools are projected to be $634 billion for the 2015-2016 school year. State and local
15 The federal Pell Grant program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education. Financial need is determined by ED using a standard formula established by Congress. See the ED website, http://www2.ed.gov/programs/fpg/index.html.
government agencies are the primary source of funding for community colleges. In 2013-2014, expenditures for community colleges totaled $55.9 billion, with nearly half (49.4 percent) coming from state or local funding, 22.6 percent from federal funding, and the remainder from student tuition and fees (16.7 percent) and other sources (11.3 percent) (NCES, 2015b, Table 333.10).
Local governance and funding for K-12 education can have an important influence on postsecondary skilled technical workforce development (see Chapter 5 for more detail).18 However, consistent with the scope of this study, the committee focused on CTE policy making, which is one of the most common ways in which states address the challenges associated with skilled technical workforce development.
CTE is offered by high schools, area CTE centers, community colleges, technical schools, and employers through classrooms, project- or work-based learning, online courses, apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and other methods (Dortch, 2014b). The goal of CTE, which must be aligned with business and industry requirements, is preparation for employment or family life. CTE occupations generally require 2 years or less of postsecondary education or training and span a wide range of technical skills and subjects in fields other than the liberal arts. For example, CTE provides preparation in homemaking, nursing, business administration, culinary arts, automotive maintenance, software programming, engineering technology, and cosmetology.
A recent paper prepared jointly by the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (now known as Advance CTE and formerly known as NASDCTEc) and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) provides an overview of CTE-related state policies enacted in 2014 (NASDCTEc et al., 2015; see also Blosveren, 2015). This report shows that, for the second year in a row, a significant number of states developed and implemented new policies and programs to advance CTE at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Nearly every state had CTE-related activity: state legislatures and regulatory bodies approved approximately 150 policies across 46 states and the District of Columbia. As Table 3-2 shows, the top three issues for state action are related to (1) funding, (2) engaging employers, and (3) earning postsecondary credit in high school and articulating credit across institutions.
Advance CTE and ACTE report on several notable developments in 2014 at the state policy level. California formalized a $250 million investment in its Career Pathways Trust Grant, and South Dakota created a $50 million Build Dakota scholarship program for students entering high-demand workforce programs. Alabama and Iowa created tax incentives to encourage donations and
18 The committee recognizes the important role of K-12 STEM education in fostering a skilled technical workforce, but defers to a recent National Academies study for a detailed discussion of this topic (see NRC, 2014a).
|Policy Area||Number of States Addressing Policy Area in 2014||States|
|Funding||36||AL, AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, NE, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OR, SD, TN, UT, VT, WA, WV, WI|
|Industry/Partnerships/Work-based Learning||28||AL, AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, IL, IN, IA, LA, ME, MD, MI, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OR, RI, SD, TN, VT, WV, WI|
|Dual and Concurrent Enrollment/Early College/Articulation||24||AL, AK, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MS, MO, NV, NJ, OH, OR, SD, TN, TX|
|Industry-recognized Credentials||19||AZ, CA, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, LA, MI, MN, MS, MO, OH, RI, TN, UT, WV|
|Graduation Requirements||15||AZ, FL, IL, IN, LA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NY, OH, OK, SC, VA, WA|
|Data/Reporting/Accountability||15||CA, CO, CT, FL, IN, IA, KY, LA, ME, MI, MN, MO, NJ, UT, VA|
|STEM||10||AZ, DC, IA, NH, NY, OK, OR, UT, VT, WA|
|CTE Standards/Accreditation||10||CO, FL, ID, LA, MN, NJ, OK, TN, WA, WY|
|Technical/Employability Assessments||7||AZ, MS, MO, NV, NY, OH, SC|
|CTE Teacher Certification/Development||7||IL, ME, NJ, ND, RI, TN, VA|
|Career/Academic Counseling||6||AL, AR, CA, KY, OH, RI|
|Governance||5||AL, NM, OR, RI, UT|
*Note: A single bill or policy can address multiple policy areas.
NOTES: This table is not exhaustive, and therefore, not every state policy found is included. STEM = science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
SOURCE: NASDCTEc et al., 2015, p. 2.
grants to increase business–education collaboration. Twenty-eight states approved policies to accelerate employer engagement with CTE to help align programs with labor market demands and offer work-based learning opportunities. Twenty-four states addressed earning and articulating credit issues. The Nevada State Board of Education and Board of Regents, for example, approved a new policy to develop statewide articulation agreements for all CTE programs.
Examples of policy-making activities related to business engagement and workforce preparation include measures in Kansas and Tennessee to accelerate credential attainment, Florida’s measure to inform parents about the return on investment for certain credentials, and activities of Illinois and Delaware to establish grant programs that will provide training for leading industries in those states (NASDCTEc et al., 2015). In Massachusetts, the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund provides $5 million to support 15 active regional industry-sector partnerships of employers and education and workforce organizations that are engaged in training unemployed individuals and placing them in high-demand jobs.
3.6.1 Labor Law Reform
U.S. labor laws and enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels regulate the rights, duties, costs, and benefits associated with the relationship between skilled technical workers and employers. These rules create important incentives for investing in education and training, a point made by Daniel Marschall, executive director of the AFL-CIO Working for America Institute, during the first panel discussion at the committee’s 2015 symposium, and echoed in other panel discussions, papers, and presentations.19 For example, if workers and employers can be reasonably sure that the labor market will function in a way that enables them to capture returns on their investments in education and training, they are more likely to make these investments. As discussed in more detail in Chapter 5, there is evidence that some employers may not be committed to hiring specific groups of workers, paying high enough wages, or providing sufficiently stable employment to ensure an adequate return on investment in education and training for either their workers or their organization.
19 In his commissioned paper, Lerman (2015) explores incentive issues for employers. These issues were a particular topic of discussion in Panels 1, 2, and 5 of the committee’s 2015 symposium, as well as in each of the keynote speeches.
U.S. labor rules are based principally on laws that are more than 80 years old, including the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (Wagner Act) and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. However, technological change in the U.S. economy has given rise to a proliferation of nontraditional and contingent employment relationships, which are creating pressure to review and revise these rules to ensure that incentives to promote education, training, innovation, and growth are sustained over time.20 These developments have been referred to as the “online gig” or “on-demand” economy: work is taking place in a series of one-off or temporary assignments rather than in an ongoing relationship with a single employer. For example, technology-driven online platforms for delivering goods and services make it possible to contract for specific, on-demand services in many occupations, such as maintenance, repair, information technology (IT), and health care assistance.
Technological change presents a separate but related issue in skilled technical workforce development.21 Most of the papers commissioned for this study, as well as discussions in the symposium panels, alluded in some way to the opportunities and challenges posed by technological change for skilled technical workers and their employers; however, these changes are an immediate and prevalent concern in the health care industry (Frogner and Skillman, 2015). As machines increasingly are integrated into the ways people think about and perform tasks, human–machine teams will proliferate in the workplace. Heterogeneous, symbiotic work teams raise entirely new issues concerning how to allocate labor rights and responsibilities, assign credit for work performed, train both human and machine workers, and allocate returns to labor.
How policy makers decide to classify and regulate these emerging work relationships has important implications for investing in the development and maintenance of a skilled technical workforce in the U.S. economy. A detailed explanation of these issues is beyond the scope of this study, but the committee believes they are important and urges policy makers across governments and locations to address them.
3.6.2 Occupational Licensing Reform
Many skilled technical jobs in maintenance, repair, construction, and health care occupations require some form of licensing or certification. In their commissioned paper, for example, Frogner and Skillman (2015) discuss the impact of licensing requirements on developing and sustaining qualifications in many health care jobs and on moving from one employer or geographic location
to another. And in their paper, Carter and Miller (2015) discuss the impact of licensing requirements on veterans’ employment.
Occupational licensing has important benefits. It is usually justified because it improves quality and protects the public from incompetent or dangerous practitioners. Licensing helps consumers assess a provider’s competency when it is difficult for them to do so before buying. In addition, licensing potentially contributes to the development of professional standards, legitimacy, and social status. It can build community and cohesiveness within an occupation and help standardize knowledge, skill, and practices. When licensing functions in these ways, it can offer benefits to providers through increased recognition of occupational work and influence.
Licensing and regulation also can increase the availability of information that helps markets function more efficiently. If consumers are unable to assess the quality of providers before purchasing a good or receiving a service, for example, low-quality providers can remain in the market without being recognized as such, reducing the average quality in the market as well as incentives for other providers to invest in quality improvements (Akerlof, 1970; Kleiner, 2000; Shapiro, 1986). If consumers are uncertain about the quality of a provider, moreover, they may not buy the service, depressing market demand for potentially valuable services. Licensing is one way to address information problems by compelling providers to meet certain quality standards and creating incentives to invest in training and skill development.
However, occupational licensing also imposes costs that can affect incentives to invest in skill development. The imposition of such requirements as additional training and education, fees, exams, and paperwork potentially reduces employment in the licensed occupation and hence competition, which can drive up the price of goods and services for consumers. This could benefit licensed providers, who might earn more than they would in an unlicensed market, or the financial benefits could flow elsewhere, such as to educational institutions or other licensing entities (Friedman and Kuznets, 1954; Kleiner, 2006; Law and Kim, 2005; Smith, 1776).
Licensing requirements also can create a barrier to entry for many jobs. If licensing places too many restrictions on workers, it can reduce the overall efficiency of the labor market. When workers cannot enter jobs that make the best use of their skills, growth and innovation may be depressed. Licensing also may affect entrepreneurship (Slivinski, 2015). Licensed workers are more likely than other workers to be self-employed. In addition, entrepreneurs in new areas that overlap with a licensed occupation may find that they are required to obtain a license because a small part of their work overlaps with that of a licensed occupation.
Finally, licensing can affect worker mobility and the availability of technical skills in labor markets. Many occupations are licensed by the states, and licensed providers typically must acquire a new license when they move to a different state. States set their own licensing requirements, which often vary
with respect to education, experience, training, and testing. The resulting costs in both time and money can discourage people from entering or remaining in an occupation. Licensing requirements can be particularly costly for some workers, such as military spouses, who are very likely to move across state lines. Constraints on worker mobility can create inefficiency in labor markets if workers are unable to migrate easily to the jobs in which they are most productive.
A White House (2015) report on occupational licensing contains several noteworthy findings:
- The share of U.S. workers holding occupational licenses has grown sharply over the past several decades: more than 25 percent of U.S. workers now require a license to perform their jobs, and most of these workers are licensed by the states.
- About two-thirds of the changes in licensing stem from an increase in the number of professions that require a license, and about one-third from the changing composition of the workforce.
- Although licensing can increase incentives to invest in education and training, it also can reduce employment, lower wages for excluded workers, and increase costs for consumers if it makes entry into a profession more difficult.
- As noted above, licensing requirements can vary considerably both within and across states, potentially imposing costs on workers seeking to move across state lines, as well as inefficiencies for businesses and the economy as a whole.
These developments and issues call for DOL to work with local and state policy makers to review their licensing requirements, encourage them to limit licensing to those occupations entailing demonstrable public safety concerns, seek ways to reduce the costs of learning about and obtaining licenses, and coordinate with other in- and out-of-state authorities to harmonize requirements across occupations and sectors.
3.6.3 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Proficiency
STEM skills are essential components of the bundle of skills that define skilled technical occupations and qualify workers to succeed in these occupations.22 Moreover, the STEM proficiency of the workforce is a prominent
22 This observation is supported in each of the papers commissioned for this study, as well as in keynote speeches and discussions at the committee’s 2015 symposium. See, in particular, the papers by Rothwell (2015) and Sheets and Tyszko (2015) and
In a 2014 companion study to its annual study of STEM indicators, the National Science Board (NSB) explored STEM indicator data, examined recent STEM workforce studies and debates, and consulted numerous experts to develop insights that could facilitate more constructive discussions about the STEM workforce and inform decision makers (NSB, 2015). NSB’s findings include the following:
- The STEM workforce is extensive and critical to innovation and competitiveness. As Box 3-3 shows, it is also defined in various ways and consists of many subworkforces. It includes the scientists and engineers who further scientific and technological progress through research and development (R&D) activities, workers in non-R&D jobs who use STEM knowledge and skills to devise or adopt innovations, and workers in technologically demanding jobs who need STEM capabilities to accomplish occupational tasks.
- STEM knowledge and skills allow for multiple, dynamic pathways to STEM and non-STEM occupations alike. Although many individuals with a STEM degree do not work in a STEM field, most of these workers indicate that their job is related to their STEM education. The relatively loose links between degrees and occupations are a distinctive feature of the U.S. workforce. This feature enables individuals to apply STEM skills in jobs across the economy and employers to utilize workers with STEM skills in whatever ways add the greatest value.
- Assessing, enabling, and strengthening workforce pathways are essential to the mutually reinforcing goals of individual and national prosperity and competitiveness. A well-rounded precollege education that includes significant engagement with STEM unlocks pathways into the technical STEM workforce and enables pursuit of additional STEM studies at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.
Yet a more recent NSB study suggests that policy makers still have a great deal of work to do to ensure that education and training programs effectively help students and workers build and sustain their STEM skills (NSB, 2016).
presentations and discussions in Panel 4, “Community College Pathways (Advanced Technical Education),” and Panel 11, “Building the Middle-Skill Talent Pipeline and Innovation.” For additional insight on the topic, see NASEM (2016a,b,c) and NAE and NRC (2012). As noted earlier, a webcast of the symposium, research papers, and presentations is available at http://nas.edu/SkilledTechnicalWorkforce.
Although 4 of 10 Americans say they are “very interested” in new scientific discoveries that contribute to innovation, growth, and national competitiveness, and 6 of 10 say they have an equally high level of interest in new medical discoveries, only 46 percent of Americans can demonstrate an understanding of scientific inquiry. Moreover, most Americans believe that other countries are doing a better job of providing STEM education and supporting lifelong education and training (NSB, 2016, Chapter 7):
- Although the percentages of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students achieving a level of proficient or higher on National Assessment of Educational Progress mathematics assessments increased from 2000 to 2013, those percentages remained well below the 50 percent mark.
- Average mathematics and science literacy scores in the United States are below those for all other developed countries, and the United States has substantially fewer high scores and more low scores than those other countries.
The development of STEM capabilities begins in K-12 education. The quality of K-12 education, particularly students’ preparation in STEM subjects,
has long been a concern. A 2010 report of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) expresses concern about uneven levels of proficiency and interest in careers in many STEM fields among African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and women (PCAST, 2010). The PCAST report suggests several strategies for addressing these issues, such as supporting higher standards in mathematics and science, recruiting well-prepared teachers for STEM subjects, leveraging educational technology for improvement, expanding students’ opportunities to engage in rich STEM experiences, and creating more STEM-focused schools. These strategies for improvement and others are being implemented across the country. Among the most visible initiatives are the new standards in both mathematics and science—the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSS-Math) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards provide a national model for states to use as they develop their own specific standards. Both the CCSS-Math and the NGSS are influencing conversations about high-quality K-12 STEM education, even in states where they have not been formally adopted.
Deep exploration of the challenges facing K-12 STEM education and the improvement initiatives across the country is beyond the scope of this study. For further information, see the portfolio of work by the Board on Science Education of the National Academies, including A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2012), Successful K-12 STEM Education (2011), Monitoring Progress toward Successful K-12 STEM Education (2013), STEM Integration in K-12 Education (2014), Developing Assessments for the Next Generation Science Standards (2014), Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (2015), and Science Teachers’ Learning (2015).
All citizens need STEM skills to function effectively in a modern economy that is increasingly based on advances in science and technology. The range and level of required STEM proficiency vary across occupations, including skilled technical occupations, and evolve as new discoveries and technologies are disseminated in life and work. Chapter 6 provides examples of additional approaches that some cities and states are taking to address this important issue.
3.6.4 The Workforce Labor Market Information System
The information system that supports policy making and labor market function—the workforce labor market information system (WLMIS)—is administered primarily by DOL (GAO, 2013; Reamer, 2015).23 All stakeholders in workforce development seek high-quality data, analyses, and projections of
23 The WLMIS consists of systems and data owned and controlled by each state. In addition, the Department of Commerce manages and owns data from surveys such as the census that are inputs for the WLMIS.
key segments of the U.S. workforce, such as skilled technical workers. For example, labor market data and analyses are used by policy makers and civic leaders to address education and workforce development needs; by students and workers to make choices about education, training, and credentialing; and by employers to make investment and hiring decisions. In his commissioned paper, presented at the committee’s 2015 symposium during the panel on “Data Resources to Support Middle Skill Workforce Development,” Andrew Reamer of Georgetown University argues that the WLMIS is less effective than it could be (Reamer, 2015).
Reamer attributes the problems in the current system to several factors. For example, funding for the WLMIS is insufficient, and coordination across local and federal agencies that contribute to and use the system could be improved. Reamer also finds a lack of understanding among analysts of how participants in labor markets at the microeconomic level rely on the WLMIS to make decisions. Moreover, many analysts are using outdated and ineffective research methods. They have not innovated in response to advances in the data and computational sciences.
Reamer notes that DOL is actively exploring how it might better use advanced, low-cost IT to improve the WLMIS. Moreover, WIOA mandates and provides a detailed framework for providing most of the information resources that labor market participants need, and aims to address many of the systemic problems. However, Reamer observes that the predecessor to WIOA (WIA of 1988) gave the secretary of labor a similar mandate to create and maintain a national employment statistics system, but succeeding secretaries did not pursue this mandate (Reamer, 2015).
Based on Reamer’s detailed analysis and supporting evidence from other papers and panel discussions, the committee observes that the WLMIS does not effectively support the country’s skilled technical workforce development needs.24Chapter 6 provides examples of additional approaches that some cities and states and are taking to address this issue.
In the United States, incentives to develop technical skills are influenced by a complex, polycentric system of labor and education policies and programs that operate at the federal, state, and local levels. Skilled technical workforce
24 Every paper commissioned for this study notes the inadequacy of the existing WLMIS. It is not unusual for analysts to call for more and better data; however, some participants in Panel 10 at the 2015 symposium echoed Reamer’s call for analysts to be more creative in their research methods.
Congress recently passed WIOA, which represents the first major reform of the workforce development system in 15 years. This legislation requires extensive alignment and integration across federal, state, and local workforce development activities. Although the reforms contained in this act are appropriate to address many issues concerning the skilled technical workforce and are based on the best available evidence about effective strategies, the act has yet to be fully implemented, and ongoing research is needed. Many experts express concern about whether and how well these reforms will be fully implemented and whether the findings of salient research will be addressed. At the state level, policy makers are focusing on two interconnected types of improvements: (1) CTE, which prepares secondary and postsecondary students for skilled technical jobs and postsecondary education; and (2) better articulation and alignment of the incentives of skilled technical workers, educators, employers, trade associations, labor unions, and industry to achieve workforce development objectives. Several policy areas require high-priority attention at the federal, state, and local levels: labor law reform, occupational licensing reform, lifelong STEM skills improvement, and investment in an improved WLMIS and associated analyses.
The next chapter explores the incentives of participants who are most directly involved in producing the skilled technical workforce.