October is Manufacturing Month, with October 7 being National Manufacturing Day. This creates an opportunity for Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) members to highlight careers in the manufacturing industry, frame the issues and broadly educate policymakers regarding the ongoing workforce shortage and skills gap, and engage with elected officials—local, state, and federal—to highlight the importance of the work we do. (Please contact FPA if you are interested in planning and hosting Manufacturing Month events.)
Even before the pandemic, a workforce shortage was brewing nationwide. The shortage is particularly impactful in the manufacturing sector, as appropriately skilled workers were becoming harder to find. The pandemic and its fallout, often called the “great resignation,” exacerbated this situation, resulting in a true crisis.
While unemployment levels have somewhat stabilized, the U.S. faces a major skills gap in which many job seekers are not qualified to fill vacancies. For FPA member companies, the lack of skilled labor is a pressing challenge at all levels, from entry-level positions to higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs. Companies are trying various approaches to recruit employees, including apprenticeship programs and efforts to seek applicants from underrepresented labor pools, such as veterans and women. However, companies alone cannot solve this problem, and the manufacturing industry and its associations are actively advocating for help.
The issues of the workforce shortage and skills gaps are multi-varied, and there is not a single solution that one piece of legislation would solve. Accordingly, efforts at the federal level are broad-based and focused on addressing a variety of barriers to work, such as child care and transportation, skills training and retraining, immigration policies, and incentives for employers to invest in training and hiring. Workforce initiatives have been included in nearly every major legislative package introduced and/or passed—the multiple versions of the Build Back Better Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the China package, and the pending fiscal year 2023 appropriations bills.
The primary federal workforce development law is the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA), which replaced the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. WIOA covers many programs aimed at improving the preparedness of the workforce, including sector-specific programs and grants for educational institutions, vocational rehabilitation, and youth training.
FPA is advocating for the reauthorization of WIOA, as well as supporting other workforce training and incentive proposals. In late spring, the U.S. House passed its version of the bill, H.R. 7309, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2022.
In addition to reauthorizing WIOA appropriations for fiscal years 2023 through 2028, the legislation also “revises workforce investment, employment, training, and literacy programs for eligible individuals.” Of note, “Adult Activities and Dislocated Worker Activities” would receive a substantial funding increase above current levels. A new section—Sectoral Employment through Career Training for Occupational Readiness (SECTOR) Program—“would be established and provide a combination of formula grants [80% of funding] and competitive grants [20% of funding] to support the development and expansion of an industry or sector partnerships.”
The U.S. Senate has not actively addressed reauthorizing WIOA. A good resource for additional information on WIOA is the Congressional Research Service’s report, “Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2022 [H.R. 7309],” which is available at crsreports.congress .gov/product/pdf/R/R47099.