Adding the Voice of Women Business Owners in Addressing the Skills Gap
Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate
At a recent meeting with women business owners—midsize and small–they pointed out shortages in the workforce that presented a present and future issue. The concerns ranged from finding truck drivers and master electricians to highly skilled technical personnel. Business owners aren’t the only ones talking about the shortages in the workforce, Congress and the Administration are concentrating on strategies to fill what is known as the “skills gap.”
The Obama Administration workforce development priorities focused on promoting community colleges and their two-year, associates degree tracks as a valid alternative to four-year degree programs, as well as encouraging partnerships between community colleges and employers.
The Trump Administration is focusing its efforts on apprenticeship. Last year, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO), “Expanding Apprenticeships in America,” which would provide industry associations, unions, and other stakeholders the flexibility to develop industry-recognized apprenticeships, loosening the Department of Labor regulations on apprenticeship programs. The Administration’s Executive Order also doubled the amount of money for apprenticeship grants, from $90 million to almost $200 million a year. Additionally, the order establishes a new Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, chaired by the Secretary of Labor and co-chaired by the Secretaries of Education and Commerce. It would also include representatives from industry, labor, and educational institutions.
Congress is also taking a hard look at the skills gap. In a recent House Small Business Committee hearing, “Workforce Development: Closing the Skills Gap,” the committee discussed career and technical education (CTE), as well as apprenticeships as a strategies to addressing the lack of qualified, skilled workers needed by business and industry. Other Committees on both sides of Congress are also trying to figure out how to chip away at this issue.
WIPP members come to the workforce development issue from two angles: one as an employer and one as a woman who likely experienced additional challenges in the workplace. We are sensitive to making sure women are an important part of the workforce and treated fairly. The article “10 facts about American women in the workforce,” highlights particular issues that women struggle with such as the wage gap, labor participation rates and paid maternity leave.
In fact, the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, has also brought forth the struggle with childcare as a priority issue for this Administration— with good reason. Most young children in the U.S. have parents who work outside the home or are business owners. According to the Brookings Institute, in 56% of married families with children under six, both parents work. For single mothers the employment rate is 6%. Childcare is a necessity for these families, and unfortunately often unaffordable in the United States. Working families are spending on average between 29% to 52% of their take-home pay on childcare costs, yet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concludes that affordable childcare should not exceed 7% of family income.
Workforce development is a new issue to WIPP’s policy team and we welcome your thoughts and experiences. Our goal is to ensure that the voice of women business owners is part of the discussion in both Congress and the Administration. Businesses of all sizes share a common goal of building America’s workforce to adapt to the economy of tomorrow. Women as business owners should be taking the lead in this effort by taking steps from strengthening women’s participation in STEAM, to being visible in the highest positions in business and industry. There is so much work to do and our voice is critical to the solution.