Bipartisan bill seeks to expand workers’ access to digital skills training programs

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House and Senate lawmakers are seeking to modify current law to create a “digital skills at work grant program” for those accessing government-funded career services.

House and Senate lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation on Wednesday that seeks to amend existing law to narrow the nation’s digital skills gap. 

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and David Valadao, R-Calif., and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., proposes investing in digital skills training by providing grants and funding to local, state and organizational employment programs and services focused on upskilling workers or providing them with expanded job opportunities. 

The proposal would modify the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA, “to establish a digital skills at work grant program” to promote information literacy for current and new workers.

The WIOA, according to the Department of Labor, is designed to “help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy.”

The lawmakers noted in a press release, however, that digital skills training programs are not “an allowable use” under the current law, limiting job seekers’ ability to gain these skills when accessing WIOA career services. 

“Ensuring people have the digital skills they need to navigate the modern job market is critical to the strength of our economy,” Valadao said in a statement. “When people enter the workforce with the foundational skills they need, it not only eases the burden on employers, but it sets people on a path to success for the rest of their careers.”

A report released by the nonprofit National Skills Coalition in February 2023 found that 92% of jobs require digital skills but noted that approximately one-third of workers lack the skills needed to take on these jobs. 

The legislation has received support from a variety of business organizations, workforce development groups and nonprofits, with some of the bill’s backers noting the disproportionate impact that the lack of these skills has on minority populations. 

“This groundbreaking legislation addresses an urgent need within our workforce, where the digital divide continues to be a barrier to employment, particularly for communities of color, low-income families, and rural populations,” Samuel Wiggins, chairman of the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. 

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