by Danny Patterson
Before we get too far in, let me first answer your question. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (TAA) is a federal entitlement program that provides various services and supports to U.S. workers may lose their jobs or may be impacted in the near future because of foreign trade. TAA has been an integral part of foreign trade acts since 1962 and has been amended numerous times over its 60-year life. That is until June 30, 2022.
On that day, the program was allowed to sunset. The program will no longer consider new petitions by affected workers for services. That’s a big deal. Almost 5 million workers have been certified for services throughout this program. How did we find ourselves here? Simply put, Congress did not take one of two necessary actions to continue the TAA. They did not (1) allocate funding through a legislative vehicle to continue these services under existing law or (2) pass legislation with accompanying funding that recasts the TAA program to increase outcomes for beneficiaries.
TAA is a great program that requires immediate reauthorization. However, with all things involving bipartisan agreements, there is uncertainty about when the reauthorization will happen, given other congressional priorities, summer break, and upcoming mid-term elections. Good public policy takes time and energy, but it also must be balanced with the impact on these communities, their workforce, and families.
Global trade impacts large metropolitan areas and the small towns and cities that dot the Midwest and South and affects thousands of workers each year. One recent example highlights a plant closure in Ohio and how the sunsetting of the TAA program impacts their immediate futures. The ending of this program, even if temporary, represents a significant hit to these workers and their communities. There is work to do at the federal level to pass this needed legislation and at the local level by our workforce system to respond to this change.
That’s the hard-to-hear news, but as with all coins, there is another side to the story. The good news is that Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) can quickly pivot to other strategies, programs, and resources available to assist these dislocated workers in short order. And do what you always do – develop partnerships and new service strategies to leverage existing resources to support these impacted workers. Here are my recommendations.
Business conditions can change unexpectedly. Regularly engaging with manufacturing companies is not only the new normal but a business imperative. As one manufacturer is contracting in your community, you must be aware of the financial condition of the other manufacturing companies in your jurisdiction.
For example, are they growing, and are they hiring? A strong partnership with local manufacturers allows local WDBs to quickly find new employment for these dislocated workers. Using existing skills ensures there is no disruption in employment and minimizes the impact of the layoff on the affected workers.
A strong partnership with manufacturers allows you to keep pace with what’s happening within the company. It also puts you in a better position to suggest or develop new reskilling programs to train employees to adapt to different positions within the company or learn new skills to use updated equipment.
The opportunity to work with education partners and industry to help these workers learn a new skill or find a career pathway creates a more versatile employee – one that can make them more marketable now and in the future.
With the new fiscal year upon us, there is a new allocation of funds available for IWT strategies. The IWT program is an effective business solution that helps the company retain its workforce. This program also upgrades skills to keep the company and its workforce competitive in the economy.
A common strategy for layoff aversion is rapid reemployment. This is the effort to quickly place dislocated workers back into the labor market with growing and healthy companies. Rapid reemployment grants can support the training of those who have experienced employment interruption and put them in high-demand jobs.
Access to workforce training builds the necessary skills required for in-demand jobs to get people hired quickly. A grant program such as this plays a critical role in getting the workforce back to work.
Enrollment in a training program valued by the business community is another great strategy. WDBs should evaluate where the skills crosswalks are and validate the training programs with the business community. Also, WDBs should work with their education partners. These programs must be available to those workers who will not return to work in the manufacturing sector.
MEP program emerges as a strong ally for the WDB. MEP is a public-private partnership funded by the Department of Commerce. With Centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, MEP serves small and medium-sized manufacturers.
MEP Centers and partners enable manufacturers to identify opportunities that will accelerate and strengthen growth. This in turn creates competitiveness in the global marketplace. The MEP Network offers a wide range of business improvement, business growth, and risk mitigation services and initiatives.
One other, often overlooked partner is the local utility company. Are they in your toolbox? Manufacturing companies use a ton of energy. These new partners can identify ways to reduce operating costs by installing energy efficiencies. Also, they may offer special pricing programs for the short term. I’ve seen them do creative things for businesses. Now we should bring them to the table as part of a global solution.
I recently read a startling statistic. Of the 5 million workers certified for TAA services, only half of them received some direct benefit through the program.
In the absence of new legislation, the national workforce system should evaluate its relationship with the manufacturing sector. We need to work together to support the small to medium-sized manufacturers which are a critical economic base and:
We cannot wait for Washington when we all need to accomplish this work now. These impacted workers are relying on us, now more than ever.
PHOTO CREDIT "Wagner Pizza production line" by Nestlé is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.