THE BLOG
09/12/2014 03:53 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2014

Getting Back to What Really Matters to the American People

During the August district-work period, we traveled our districts in the states of Washington, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Illinois and met with small-business owners, entrepreneurs and middle-class families who desperately want to see a Congress focused on fostering an environment for job growth.

If there's one thing we heard time and time again, it's this: Congressional leaders aren't focused on the issues that matter to the American people. While Congress fights over manufactured scandals and issues that are only relevant to those living inside the Beltway, working families across the United States are struggling to find the skills they need to succeed in a rapidly shifting global marketplace.

It's pretty simple: Americans want and deserve their leaders to work together in a bipartisan way to establish a "safety net of skills" and make job training a national priority. Right now it's estimated that 600,000 jobs are going unfilled across the country because employers can't find the workers with the skills to fill them. At a time when too many Americans are unemployed or have dropped out of the workforce altogether, this is unacceptable.

Now more than ever, we need to reprioritize the investments that will get people back to work. We need a national commitment to addressing the skills gap.

We can develop just such a strategy if we seek the best ideas of the men and women who make our economy work every day. Labor leaders, business leaders, community-college instructors and local workforce professionals aren't waiting for Congress to act. Many of them have already developed strategies to upgrade workers' skills locally. These strategies, if implemented on a national scale, could help to renew the American economy.

Congress took an important first step in making our workforce-training system more efficient by passing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) with broad, bipartisan support earlier this summer. The bill applies a single set of outcome metrics to every federal workforce program, helping ensure that the taxpayer dollars we spend to train and equip our workforce actually work. It creates smaller, more focused Workforce Investment Boards with representation from the employers who actually hire our workers. And it aligns workforce-training initiatives with local needs by supporting on-the-job and customized training initiatives that actually give people the skills they need to succeed.

All these efforts will help build a stronger workforce-investment system, but there's more to do. That's why we've joined with 16 of our colleagues in the pro-growth, fiscally responsible New Democrat Coalition to form a working group on 21st-century job skills. Over the next few months we will take in the best ideas of leaders and stakeholders in the business community, in education, in America's labor community and in workforce development to discuss next-generation solutions that will help Americans get back to work.

We'll consider solutions like public-private partnerships that link leaders in industry and education to develop strategies that give workers the most in-demand skills in today's job market; expanded on-the-job training programs, which have a proven track record of effectiveness; and a new commitment to the apprenticeship model. We'll look to unconventional places for new solutions that could help millions find the work they need to build a better life for their families.

Our efforts come at a time when we've seen a renewed focus on skill development and job training at the federal level. Vice President Biden recently released a report on the ways to strengthen America's workforce-development system, in which he argued for smart reforms to connect Americans with skills to "expand opportunity to the people who need it most -- the working men and women who represent the backbone of the world's most dynamic and thriving economy."

We embrace the spirit of this effort, and we will push our colleagues to embrace it as well.

We have seen that smart investments in workforce-development initiatives, backed by strong accountability measures, can deliver the kind of broad-based prosperity that Americans remember from the 1990s. It's time for Congress to get back to making those investments a priority.

It may bore the D.C. crowd, but it's what really matters to the American people.

Representatives DelBene, Esty, Kuster and Schneider are the leaders of the House New Democrat Coalition's 21st Century Job Skills Working Group.