America is better off when we are making things. We have a powerful service economy, but the backbone of our greatness has always been those who make things: our manufacturers, our farmers, our builders, and our innovators. We’ve seen that first-hand in Ohio, where manufacturing is in our blood.
But in order to achieve our potential in manufacturing, create new jobs, and see rising wages in Ohio, Washington needs to get its act together. This includes restructuring federal workforce training to connect hard-working Ohioans with the skills they need to fill available jobs, rolling back burdensome regulations and paperwork that are killing jobs, pursuing an aggressive new national energy policy, and ensuring a level playing field for our workers through better tax and trade policies.
This past August, I traveled over 3,000 miles around Ohio, covering 30 counties and holding over 60 meetings. I met with small business owners, auto workers, and manufacturers of everything from trucks to food to plastics. Despite these different settings, the message was pretty consistent — Ohioans want to see a stronger economy, with not just more jobs but paychecks that are going up, not down. I heard from a lot of people who are feeling the middle class squeeze, with flat wages, higher expenses and a sluggish economy. They want jobs where they can count on a pay raise, afford decent healthcare, invest in their retirement, and save for their children’s education.
On the skills gap, too many Americans are finding they lack needed skills and too many Ohio manufacturers are unable to fill critical jobs. Washington can and must do better to help close this gap. Here are the numbers from Ohio: we have about 265,000 people out of work, yet there are about 198,801 unfilled jobs, many of which are in skilled manufacturing. This is unacceptable. The federal government has all kinds of programs to help close this gap, but they aren’t doing the job. According to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government spends about $18 billion annually to operate 47 different workforce development programs spread over nine different departments and agencies. Forty-five of them overlap with at least one other program, and only five have conducted an impact study of their efforts since 2004, leading GAO to conclude that “little is known about the effectiveness of most programs.”
After learning about these wasteful and duplicative programs, I teamed up with my colleague Senator Michael Bennet to work on bipartisan legislation called the CAREER Act to streamline federal retraining programs and make them more accountable. Some key components of our bill were signed into law as part of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act last year. As the law is implemented, we will begin to see improvements, but much more needs to be done to spend tax dollars more efficiently to get the skills training needed for a diverse range of available manufacturing jobs.
Despite the headwinds in Washington, I have been able to buck the system and work on a bipartisan basis to ensure that Ohio workers can do what they do best – make things! There is much more work to be done, but I will continue to fight for policies to add good-paying Ohio manufacturing jobs.