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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., introduced legislation today that would help America's workers get back to work.

Enzi along with Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Amendments of 2003, S. 1627. The bill reauthorizes and amends the 1998 WIA legislation enacted to create a streamlined job training and employment system that would be responsive to the needs of employers and workers.

"Workforce development is a powerful economic development tool," said Enzi. "In these challenging times, the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act will give us an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of our workers, and increase the strength of our businesses and communities. The kinds of jobs that will be available in the days to come will be different from those that were highly valued just months ago. We need to ensure that those who are looking for jobs find them. To do that we must ensure they have the training they will need for these new positions."

The reauthorizing legislation would improve the existing One-Stop Career Center delivery system by better connecting the job training system with the private sector and post-secondary education and training, social services, and economic development systems. This would be done by removing barriers that currently exist that have discouraged business involvement, particularly small businesses, in workforce training.

The legislation would also leverage technology to improve access to WIA services throughout each state, including rural areas.

Enzi said the legislation is projected, in 2004, to help over 940,000 dislocated workers get back to work. Additionally, over 540,000 adult workers are projected to receive assistance in finding new or better jobs.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator Enzi's statement follows.

Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
Workforce Investment Act Amendments of 2003
September 17, 2003



As I consulted the morning weather reports, the thought occurred to me that today's economic forecast sounds a lot like the weather forecast. There is good reason to believe dramatic change is on the way. Yet - unlike the weather - how dramatic the economic change will be and how prepared we will be for it is in our hands. While we can't do anything about the weather, we can do something about helping America's workers get back to work.

We have already taken action to lay the groundwork for our economic recovery. We have ensured the presence of more capital in our economy which will lead to the creation of more jobs for our people. We have also begun to deal with the changing face of our nation's economy. Because the kinds of jobs that will be available in the days to come will be different from those that were highly valued just months ago, we need to ensure that those who are looking for jobs find them. To do that we must ensure they have the training they will need for these new positions. We must also bring workforce supply and demand together to ensure that our businesses have the skilled employees they need to compete in a more global economy.

Workforce development is a powerful economic development tool. In these challenging times, the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act will give us an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of our workers, and increase the strength of our businesses and communities.

Legislation I am introducing today, the Workforce Investment Act Amendments of 2003, along with my colleagues Senator Kennedy, Senator Gregg and Senator Murray, will build upon the success of the Workforce Investment Act while addressing its shortcomings.

In 1998 the Workforce Investment Act was enacted to create a streamlined job training and employment system that would be responsive to the needs of employers and workers. The system may be fairly new, but we've already learned a great deal about its strengths and weaknesses. These lessons reinforce what I learned as a small business owner in Wyoming:

• Real opportunity in America comes from the small business sector;

• Economic development and workforce development go hand in hand;

• Rural areas face unique workforce development challenges;

• Washington cannot – and should not – determine state, local and individual workforce needs; and,

• Overly burdensome administrative requirements divert resources from serving customers.

Prior to coming to the Senate, my wife and I owned a small chain of shoe stores. We were not shoe salesmen, we were shoe fitters. There is a big difference. Shoe fitters listen to their customers and then meet their need for footwear with something comfortable to wear. Some people may be born salesmen, but they have to be trained to be shoe fitters. We had a series of courses we put our employees through. Few people are aware that slight changes can be made in a shoe to make it especially comfortable as well as useful and attractive. They aren't aware of the possibilities because they haven't been coming to see shoe fitters – they've been dealing with salesmen.

We taught listening, needs questioning, and technical fitting. Any staff person could advance through our training and begin filling foot doctor's prescriptions. The value of the training was that it made our stores special. We made sure our customers received the help they needed – even though they didn't know to ask for it – because they didn't know it was available.

Along the way we got to see some very special people achieve. One young returning Vietnam vet became a store manager, then bought that store – and later – bought a second store from us. Now he owns his own building and is also in the motel business. Bill Schepeler of Miles City, Montana has and is playing a role in building three communities. I also consider him to be one of my good friends. He went through a workforce training program that we had approved in conjunction with the federal government.

My wife has also served on several boards that dealt with training and jobs and is currently on the Advisory Committee On Apprenticeship of the Department of Labor. She and I know that real opportunity in America comes from the small business sector where the American dream can still happen.

This bipartisan legislation I am introducing today will help keep the American dream alive for millions of American workers. It will provide workers with the training they need to find new or better jobs.

Our bill improves upon the existing One-Stop Career Center delivery system to ensure that it can respond quickly and effectively to the changing needs of employers and workers in the new economy and address the needs of hard-to-serve populations. The bill also better connects the job training system with the private sector and with post-secondary education and training, social services, and economic development systems. Doing so will prepare the 21st century workforce for career opportunities and skills in high-growth sectors. Our bill removes barriers in the law that have discouraged business involvement in workforce training. As a result, job training and employment services will be more demand-driven and responsive to the needs of employers, both large and small.

One-stop career centers are the focal point of WIA's job training and employment system. However, distance can create a barrier to delivering job training and employment services in many rural and frontier areas, like Wyoming. A job seeker or employer in Dubois, Wyoming has to travel 150 miles round trip to get to the nearest one-stop center in Lander. It isn't hard to understand the impact that traveling distances like that can have on a trainee or business owner. If you live in a big city – there's probably a facility just down the road – or a short bus ride downtown. There is an answer to that problem – technology can effectively remove the barrier created by distance. This legislation will leverage technology to improve access to WIA services throughout each state, including rural areas.

Some states and localities have found creative ways to overcome the challenges imposed by current law. Wyoming has done a magnificent job with the resources they have been allotted, and I commend their ingenuity. With this legislation, we will give Wyoming and the other states and localities the tools they need to help the unemployed or underemployed.

I want to thank my Colleagues on the HELP Committee for all their work on this bipartisan Workforce Amendment Act. I also want to thank the Department of Labor for their assistance. I look forward to working with my Colleagues and the Administration to expeditiously address outstanding issues and enact this vital legislation. A demand-driven, flexible, and accountable system that works in all areas of the country in all economic times is what we can achieve through the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.

We can't do anything to change the path of Hurricane Isabel. However, we can do something to put our workers on the path to new and better jobs. In fact, this bill means more than just jobs - it means good, solid careers for the workers of this country.

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