- Lawmakers have floated a bipartisan bill seeking to expand and modify employer educational assistance programs. The Upskilling and Retraining Assistance Act, introduced Aug. 4 by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Todd Young, R-Ind., aims to assist employers in hiring and retaining workers who lost their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- For the next two years, the bill would update the tax code by mandating an emergency expansion of the tax exclusion from $5,250 to $12,000. The current exclusion level hasn't changed since 1986, and is "currently far below the cost of most higher education programs," the senators said in a statement. The bill would also cover the costs of technology and tools for training employees such as computers, software and construction equipment. Items related to the costs of an employee completing an education program, would be covered as well, according to the announcement.
- Major corporations that endorse the bill include Walmart and Starbucks. The bill is also endorsed by a coalition that the Society for Human Resource Management and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities co-lead.
Addressing workforce needs during the COVID-19 pandemic should include providing training to close skill gaps among American workers, according to the National Skills Coalition (NSC).
Employees in essential industries will need upskilling to meet the requirements of digital disruption, according to an NSC report released April 21,. For example, 50% of construction, storage sector and transportation workers have limited or no digital skills, according to the NSC. And 35% of manufacturing workers have limited or no digital skills.
Starbucks continues a focus on upskilling employees through its College Achievement Plan, through which eligible U.S. associates working part- or full-time receive 100% tuition coverage to pursue a first-time bachelor's degree via Arizona State University's online program. By endorsing the Upskilling and Retraining Assistance Act, the company looks forward to "the opportunity to provide expanded assistance for our partners, in partnership with policymakers, the educational community, and other businesses around the county," John Kelly, executive vice president, public affairs and social impact at Starbucks, said in a statement.
In September, Walmart opened its first supply chain training academy "specifically to train the retailer's supply chain associates and provide them with a clear path to advancement," the company said in a statement. The first one opened in a 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center in Sanger, Texas. In 2016, Walmart began opening up regional training academies to help more employees reach learning goals.
Amid the pandemic, other major U.S. companies are also creating training programs. In June, Microsoft, along with its LinkedIn unit, launched a global skills initiative to help job seekers acquire skills for in-demand roles. The COVID-19 pandemic "has shined a harsh light" on a skills gap that is widening globally, and must be "closed with even greater urgency to accelerate economic recovery," Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a blog post. By the end of 2020, the company aims to increase the digital skills of 25 million people worldwide.
Also in June, nonprofit Merit America announced a partnership with Amazon's Career Choice initiative. Hourly associates at Amazon fulfillment centers in the Baltimore and Dallas-Fort Worth areas who do not have college degrees can receive training for IT careers.