Daines introduces measure to give workers new skills in post-COVID job market

Sen. Steve Daines on Tuesday introduced the Workforce Recovery and Training Services Act, saying many workers are returning to a job market that looks different than it did before the pandemic. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A bill to help workers navigate the shifting economy by gaining new skills and provide employer incentives could help boost the nation’s recovery, Sen. Steve Daines said Tuesday.

Daines on Tuesday morning introduced the Workforce Recovery and Training Services Act, saying many workers are returning to a job market that looks different than it did before the pandemic.

“As our nation continues to respond to the impacts of COVID-19, we must ensure our workers have the support they need to get back to work,” Daines said. “My bill will boost our economic recovery by connecting unemployed Montanans with local career training programs that can help them find a new job.”

Daines cited a recent survey by the Strada Education Network that found that more than 50 million Americans believe they will need additional education to replace a lost job with a comparable one. Only 44% of Americans say they have access to the education or training they want.

In rural communities, that number drops to 39%, Daines said.

“Workforce recruitment and retention are top challenges for Montana businesses, and the coronavirus is set to exacerbate this problem,” said Todd O’Hair, president and CEO of the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

Five months into the pandemic – in the first week of July – the Montana Department of Labor and Industry issued more than 42,000 unemployment insurance payments totaling around $43 million. Since the middle of March, more than 108,200 Montanans have applied for initial unemployment insurance claims.

Daine’s bill would expand the funds needed for workers to gain new skills and provide incentives for employers who hire and train new and current employees with high-demand skills. It would also help local communities expand employment services.

Daines said Montana has 17 certified One Stop Job Service Systems that will aid in the deployment of the training services included in the bill. Daines’ bill also authorizes $3.5 billion in formula funding through the Department of Labor.