Addressing manufacturing job loss

Manufacturing employee working with a fire stove
State lawmakers are promoting two pieces of legislation which would work to address job shortages in manufacturing. Photo: Pxhere

Two new, bipartisan bills are making their way through the Legislature, with the goal of addressing changes that are affecting Washington’s manufacturing sector.

The bills’ prime sponsor and a representative from academia say the pieces of legislation will better coordinate efforts made by employers, educational institutions and future workers, as well as identify and prepare for needs within the industry.

SB 6544 would create the Future of Work Task Force to address manufacturing job loss issues. Its prime sponsor is State Sen. Maralyn Chase (D-32), and cosponsors include State Sens. Sharon Brown (R-8), Bob Hasegawa (D-11) and Keith Wagoner (R-39).

Under the bill, the task force would assess current and future drivers of changing industries and work in Washington. It would also focus on bolstering the economies of Washington employers, workers and their communities, with an eye toward technological advances and best practices within the workplace.

Chase also is sponsor of SB 6236, which would create the Washington state economic growth commission, tasked with establishing a manufacturing innovation institute. The institute would serve as a regional hub for businesses and academic representatives to provide training, educational opportunities and testing for new industry products.

During a February 1 Senate Ways and Means Committee public hearing, Chase told colleagues the manufacturing institute would serve as a catalyst for high-tech regional development:

“These proposals will provide for the planning necessary to bring to the legislature in the next session a fully developed strategy for economic growth for the state of Washington.”

The manufacturing industry is an important one, both for Washington state and the country. There is an estimated $1.81 economic return for every dollar spent on the industry nationally, according to the National Association of Manufacturer’s website. In 2015, manufacturing workers earned $81,289 each year, and over 90 percent were eligible for health insurance benefits.

Although no one signed in to testify on the either bill during the Ways and Means hearing, one week prior, the Senate Economic Development and International Trade Committee heard testimony on SB 6544.

Katherine Mahoney, Program Administrator of Workforce Education for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), told lawmakers the board appreciates SB 6544’s focus on “talent development and the ongoing educational needs of the workforce.”

“We are supportive of efforts to better coordinate the work and resources across our workforce and economic development systems, especially if that coordination results in policy research which provides actionable data and scalable practices,” she added.

However, Mahoney said the board wanted to make sure the bill didn’t duplicate efforts already being made by business or labor. She added that Washington already has several plans related to workforce and economic needs.

Successful ongoing efforts include the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board’s Talent and Prosperity for All (TAP) plan, SBCTC’s Perkins plan for preparing students for work, and online dashboards made available by the Employment Security Department (ESD).

“While none of these are exactly tackling the topics identified in this legislation, they do hold a piece of the conversation. I think a main challenge … is to find ways to add value to these existing efforts.”

Mahoney added that it is also important for the task force to focus on identifying leading indicators that will equip academia and the business community to stay “ahead of the game.”

SB 6236 and SB 6544 are not yet scheduled for executive session or additional public hearings.

 

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