Lawmakers: Future of work proposal “redundant”

Construction workers planning next step
State lawmakers shared differing opinions on SB 6544, which would create a task force to analyze current and future trends in the workforce. Photo: Greg Henshall

State lawmakers disagreed over the need for a bill which would predict changes in Washington industries and work by creating the future of work task force. Representatives in favor of the measure argued it will help the state prepare decades in advance by analyzing and tweaking job training efforts made by employers and the educational system. Opponents said that while its efforts would be helpful, the bill runs the risk of duplicating advances made by other stakeholder groups.

SB 6544’s 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). The Senate approved the measure on Feb. 8, in a 36-11 vote.

During Mar. 2 floor debate, State Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-46) told colleagues: “The world is changing and this bill, as a task force working with the work force board, (would) examine what is the future of work in Washington state.”

He continued that the task force would analyze needs for advancing training and post-secondary education, as well as make suggestions on revamping the K-12 system to prepare for 20 years down the line.

“This is a very important look forward that will give us a roadmap to reshape our educational system, our apprenticeship system and our higher education systems.”

Under SB 6544, the task force would identify current and future drivers of changing industries and work in Washington. It would also identify and make recommendations on policies that would economically benefit business owners, workers and communities while also considering technological advances.

Several Republican lawmakers found fault with the proposal’s use of taxpayer funds for efforts they argue is already being done elsewhere.

State Rep. Jeff Holly (R-6) argued the bill takes from money already running out to perform functions currently performed by the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board “which has about 16 different programs that are administered right now at the current cost of one billion dollars in the workforce development system.

“This is just redundant or an expansion of something that is already being done…and can be done within existing resources.”

State Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-2) agreed. “This is another establishment of yet another task force.”

He read from the bill summary which states the bill would help Washington’s young people to navigate careers and workplaces of the future and help workers maintain up-to-date skills.

According to Barkis, the Economic Development Council and the state’s school programs are already focusing on those goals.

“I don’t think we need to spend $700,000 of the taxpayers’ dollars to authorize a task force to study something that we are already doing. I think it would be much more appropriate to take those dollars and appropriate them to these actual programs.”

Also weighing in was State. Rep. J.T. Wilcox (R-2): “I have no confidence that we are going to spend $700,000 and have an accurate picture of what the economy is going to do.”

Instead, he suggested lawmakers work on “the things that we know today,” by building a system that adjusts to the economy and events to make sure Washington youth are not stuck in “some obsolete idea that we formulated in the next year about what 2040 is going to be like.”

After putting the decision on hold, the House passed out the measure in a 50-48 vote.

 

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