Before the pandemic, workforce issues were a growing concern for Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) member companies. For several years, the industry faced the initial phase of the massive exit from the labor pool of retiring baby boomers coupled with the meager flow of the Gen Z generation entering the market at numbers too low to avert a labor shortage. Additionally, finding the workers with the right skill sets was becoming challenging. These were issues on FPA’s advocacy agenda before anyone had even heard of COVID.
Then the pandemic accelerated these problems and added significant pressures on the tenuous situation. As we enter the third summer after the virus hit, the worst of the pandemic restrictions are hopefully behind us.
However, while aspects of the economy are in recovery, workforce issues are at a crisis point. Public and private entities, large and small companies are facing unprecedented challenges in finding and retaining both entry-level and skilled workers as the labor force participation rate continues to decline.
Washington is keenly focused on the workforce crisis. The large trade associations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), dedicated significant resources to sounding the alarm in Washington and providing policy recommendations for how to address these problems.
The federal government committed significant resources. The massive spending packages over the past several years—CARES Act, American Rescue Plan (ARPA), Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), etc.—included new workforce investment programs and incentives. More are expected.
The Biden Administration, in conjunction with Congressional leadership, has taken an all-of-government approach toward addressing the underlying workforce issues. This approach includes some component of workforce investment in every major legislative proposal that Congress is considering, including the bills addressing competition with China (USICA and the COMPETES Act), the various forms of the Build Back Better (BBB) proposals, and funding in the current Fiscal Year 2022—and the pending President’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2023 that is making its way through the Congressional budget process.
The key pieces of legislation that authorize most federal workforce training are the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that was passed in 2014 (served as a reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act) and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which was reauthorized in 2018. Despite the divisive political climate in Washington, both sides of the aisle agree that this is a multi-faceted problem that requires multi-faceted solutions. One avenue to pursue these solutions could come via the WIOA reauthorization, which could serve as a platform for longer-term policy solutions.
Please let us know if you are experiencing workforce issues that you would like to share with your members of Congress. FPA will continue its ongoing advocacy efforts to educate stakeholders on the Hill on the attributes of the flexible packaging industry. Additionally, as legislators are more comfortable meeting in person in their states and districts, we would be pleased to help facilitate plant visits and tours.