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Without Job-Training Reform, 'Help Wanted' Is Sign of Future

Our economic future depends on a well-trained work force. But "help-wanted" signs in windows all over America say it all: Employers at every level are finding it increasingly difficult to locate and attract qualified employees for high-skilled, high-paying jobs - as well as qualified employees for entry-level positions.

For example, right outside Washington, in northern Virginia, 19,000 high-tech, high-paying jobs remain unfilled because individuals lack the skills to fill them. And morning drive-time radio ads there urge people to move to North Carolina to fill high-tech jobs there.

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In Cleveland, a survey shows employers are concerned that the lack of skilled workers is impeding growth.

The Manufacturers Alliance's Economic Report shows a growing gap between available jobs and available skilled workers. While wages have increased for those who have the skills in demand, many jobs still go unfilled and the median duration of unemployment for those who lack the skills remains at recession levels.

The increasing labor shortage threatens our economic growth and productivity as a nation. Clearly, we must do more to prepare America's workers for tomorrow's jobs.

Senate passage last month of the Workforce Investment Partnership Act came not a moment too soon and should be passed by Congress and signed by the president this year.

This legislation would fundamentally reform the current system which is a fragmented and duplicative maze of narrowly focused programs, administered by Federal agencies that lack coordination, lack a coherent strategy to provide training assistance, and lack the confidence of two key consumers - the workers seeking training and the businesses seeking to hire them.

The job training bill builds on the leadership of states and localities that have been innovating over the last few years, even in the midst of onerous federal barriers and obstacles. By eradicating outdated rules and regulations, we can remove the barriers that have stymied reform in the past.

The bill promotes free market competition. It establishes an effective and accountable workforce development system, ensuring that training leads to meaningful, long-term employment.

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Training services must prove that training leads to meaningful, unsubsidized employment _ showing how many people were placed, at what cost, and how many people remained employed six months to a year later. We owe this true accountability to those seeking assistance, and to taxpayers who pay for these programs.

The Senate bill was passed with bipartisan support because it eliminates government bureaucracy and promotes personal responsibility. It coordinates and simplifies nearly 70 programs into a single system. It would provide training assistance through "Individual Training Accounts," or vouchers, to allow the individuals seeking assistance to have a say about where and how they're trained.

JOB-TRAINING reform depends on the participation of the business community. The bill requires private sector to outline its employment needs and help design training programs to ensure trainees can find long-term, meaningful employment.

We can no longer afford the "Washington knows best" mentality that created the current maze of training and related programs.

One major Ohio newspaper called the legislation "a bill that works." That's right. And it should be enacted as soon as possible.

* Mike DeWine, Republican senator from Ohio, is chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Subcommittee on Employment and Training.

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