After an overwhelming majority vote in the Washington State Senate earlier this month, business advocates this week are praising SB 5713 during it’s first public testimony in the House. The bill would create a public-private matching grant program to expand outreach and recruitment efforts for state companies utilizing skilled worker training programs. Proponents argued that the measure would fill industry pipelines with entry-level workers in high-demand sectors, such as hospitality or construction, and increase awareness of career opportunities in these fields normally overshadowed by the traditional postsecondary degree path.
On March 6, the state Senate approved the bill in a 47-2 vote. Prime sponsor is State Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1), and cosponsors include State Sens. Lynda Wilson (R-17), Hans Zeiger (R-25), and Curtis King (R-14). Lawmakers opposing the bill’s passage were State Sens. Bob Hasegawa (D-11) and Maralyn Chase (D-32).
Increasing Awareness Of Middle-Skill Job Paths
During executive session, Palumbo and Wilson argued the measure would attract young Washingtonians into needed job slots, and better promote middle-wage job industries as viable career paths.
“This is an idea, a public-private partnership, basically to get kids mostly in the 19-25 year-old range into middle skill jobs,” Palumbo said at a Tuesday, March 21 House Higher Education Committee public hearing. “We have lots and lots of jobs, especially in construction and hospitality, and we’re not doing a very good job of getting kids into high-paying jobs, also maritime.”
“This is just one more tool in the toolbox to make sure that they are aware,” he added. “It’s more of a marketing and outreach program than an apprenticeship or a pre-apprenticeship…to let those kids know that they have options.”
Ranking Committee Member State Rep. Jeff Holy (R-6) also saw the measure as worthy of support. “You have apprenticeship programs out there for the several different trades, you have skill centers in the high schools that are bringing people up to speed for the specific trades…what you are proposing here is to all of the people out there that don’t have that very linear direction in life or path picked for them.”
“They don’t know what they don’t know,” he added. “You are basically bringing this to the forefront so they understand what options are available to them.”
SB 5713 would create the state’s Skilled Worker Outreach, Recruitment, and Career Awareness Training Program, which would utilize private-public matching grants to expand hiring efforts for businesses in key industry fields. To be eligible, an employer must already offer a skilled worker training awareness program, such as apprenticeships, or be developing one. They also would have to detail how worker shortages would be addressed through the grant money.
K-12 is ‘College Ready, Not Career-Ready’
Representatives from the hospitality and construction sectors testified on how the bill would improve their outreach efforts, and to raise awareness of the benefits of working those industry jobs.
“We are not asking you to fix our problem, we are just asking you to be part of the solution,” David D’Hondt told committee members Tuesday. He is Executive Vice President of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Washington.
In a 2016 AGC of America study, 70 percent of Washington construction businesses reported having trouble recruiting workers into hourly craft jobs, such as pipe layers, equipment operators, or carpenters. This was higher than just over two-thirds of firms reporting the issue nationally.
“We believe that the K-12 emphasizes students to be college-ready, not career-ready,” D’Hondt added. The bill “could bring awareness of good paying jobs or careers that they may not have discovered in high school. And as an industry, we are meeting the challenge of finding entry-level workers head-on, however we believe that it is good public policy to leverage public dollars with private dollars for outcome based results.”
Better Recruiting Entry-Level Workers
For the industry, SB 5713 would also help cut back on costly outreach and recruitment attempts. Last year, AGC spent $22 million on workforce development efforts, according to D’Hondt.
“If this legislation would pass and should AGC be selected to receive an awareness grant, money from the grant will be used for recruitment for the entry-level craft workers and directed at 19-29 year olds that are unemployed or underemployed,” he told the committee. “We will be able to target markets for priority hire and local hire areas and emphasize opportunities for minorities and women. These recruits will be directed to the BuildWashington website to learn more about career opportunities in construction and to sign up for a four-week awareness class.”
That class would be offered four nights a week and culminate in a celebration event where employers can hire the program graduates, added D’Hondt.
Nancy Monro also agrees the bill would give her business a one-up for meeting worker shortages. She is Executive Manager for MidMountain Contractors, a Kirkland-based company specializing in civil utility and roadway construction projects, and the immediate past president of AGC of Washington.
“In the construction industry we are having a difficult time getting people interested…I know that the legislature spent large amounts of money on preparing and encouraging students to attend college, however the emphasis on Collegebound has meant fewer resources spent on the…high schools students that do not go on to earn post-secondary degree.”
The Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters would use the money for reaching middle school students, according to Terry Tilton, Community Relations and lobbyist for the council.
“One of the things I see out of the potential grant process is for us to reach the middle school level…I think giving them that awareness whether it’s the culinary world or the construction world but to reach down to those younger folks and those parents and teachers and counselors to say this is a viable path,” she said.
The hospitality industry also vocalized strong support for the bill.
“One of the things that I see that is just so much of an opportunity here is the collective impact and public and private partnership,” said Sandra Miller, Workforce Development Manager for the Washington Hospitality Association Education Foundation. “We employ 230,000 people in the state, so we hope to grow the number…workforce development is one of the top issues for our association’s members and needs for people that are not part of the association, but are part of the industry.”
SB 5713 was originally scheduled for possible executive session on Wednesday, March 22, but has since been rescheduled to next week.