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Legislation would expand digital workforce skills, amend Obama bill for 21st century America

Rebecca Barnabi
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The Digital Skills for Today’s Workforce Act would establish new “Digital Skills at Work” grant program to expand digital workforce skills for Americans seeking employment or upskilling opportunities.

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and U.S. Rep. David Valadao of California introduced the bipartisan, bicameral legislation yesterday to expand access to digital skills training for American job seekers.

According to the National Skills Coalition and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 92 percent of today’s jobs require digital skills. Nearly one third of workers do not have the foundational digital skills, such as email, spreadsheets or data entry to enter and succeed in today’s workforce. Americans who can qualify for jobs requiring at least one digital skill earn 23 percent more income on average annually.

Despite high demand across industries, digital skills training is not currently listed as an allowable use under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), federal legislation enacted to help job seekers access employment, education, training and support services to succeed in the labor market. Because of the lack of allowance, one-stop workforce development career centers, which are physical sites within local workforce development areas across the United States where job seekers and employers can access programs, services and resources, do not offer any digital skills training opportunities.

The bipartisan, bicameral Digital Skills for Today’s Workforce Act would amend WIOA to establish a new “Digital Skills at Work” grant program to expand digital skills training within postsecondary education, adult education and workforce development systems. The legislation would make specific, targeted investments in digital skills training to help Americans seeking jobs or upskilling opportunities and Americans with barriers to employment learn or build digital skills. The bill would also advance access to good-paying jobs and support the development of digitally resilient education and workforce systems.

“When we help job seekers learn and refine on-the-job skills, we are helping Americans advance their careers and helping businesses hold on to adept and experienced employees. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would empower states, localities, and local organizations — that are already doing incredible work to support our local workforces — to assist Virginians and Americans across the country in learning and building the industry-specific digital skills that will help them succeed in our 21st century economy,” Spanberger said. “Investments to close the digital skills gap help our workforce and our communities stay competitive and stay ahead, and I’m grateful for the support of Senator Kaine and Congressman Valadao as we work to deliver this support.”

The Digital Skills for Today’s Workforce Act would:

  • Create digital skills training programs. The legislation would create formula funding grants for states based on a combination of population, number of working-age residents, and number of residents with low digital literacy skills (determined by educational attainment, earnings, and limited English proficiency).
  • Increase digital equity. The bill would creative competitive grants for localities and organizations based on how the funds will be used and the populations that will receive services, including individuals with barriers to employment and historically underrepresented populations.
  • Require performance accountability. The legislation would require states, localities, and organizations that receive a grant under this bill to report their awards publicly.

“Digital skills can be a gateway to new job opportunities for so many Virginians, especially at a time when I’m hearing from employers across the Commonwealth about how hard they’re working to hire up,” Kaine said. “The Digital Skills for Today’s Workforce Act would make it easier for people to access high-quality digital training programs to develop or hone those skills. Investing in our workforce is good for our workers, employers, and overall economy, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us in supporting this bill.”

Valadao said that ensuring Americans have the digital skills necessary is critical to the economy’s strength.

“When people enter the workforce with the foundational skills they need, it not only eases the burden on employers, but it sets people on a path to success for the rest of their careers,” Valadao said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.