As workforce shortages within the roofing industry become increasingly acute, NRCA continues working on initiatives intended to address the problem. One key focus is legislation currently under Congressional consideration that would help industry professionals meet their future workforce needs.
In 2018, NRCA was pleased Congress approved the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, legislation that reforms and expands career and technical education. The law took effect July 1 and provides more opportunities for employers to collaborate with educational institutions regarding new workforce development strategies in the coming years. However, more needs to be done to help roofing industry employers address their workforce needs.
Congress is considering reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, an existing law that provides federal investments in post-secondary education. NRCA believes reforms should include expanded workforce training incentives and other provisions that will enable roofing industry employers to develop skilled workers. NRCA supports two bills that may be included in a broader package of legislation reforming the Higher Education Act.
First, NRCA supports the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students Act (S. 839), legislation that would extend eligibility for federal Pell Grants to include more types of workforce training programs. Pell Grants are awarded to qualifying low-income students pursuing post-secondary degree or certificate programs. Currently, Pell Grants are not available to students enrolled in short-term certificate programs that are shorter than one semester in length. As a result, many students who qualify for Pell Grants do not have access to short-term career and technical educational programs that can provide the education and skills necessary for indemand careers such as roofing.
Sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the JOBS Act would expand eligibility for Pell Grants to short-term certificate programs and put more career and technical educational programs on the same level as longer post-secondary programs. The legislation has significant bipartisan support in the Senate. Companion legislation (H.R. 3497) recently was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio).
College Transparency Act
NRCA also supports the College Transparency Act (S. 800/H.R. 1766), a bill that seeks to improve access to post-secondary educational and workforce data to better enable comparisons of the cost and economic returns of completing a four-year college degree to those of alternatives like career and technical educational programs. The legislation would create a secure, privacy-protected student-level data network to be accessed by students and parents. Policymakers also could use the data to help improve student outcomes in all types of educational programs. The legislation enjoys bipartisan support and has been introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the Senate and Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) in the House.
The bill is strongly supported by many career and technical educational institutions whose administrators believe providing more data regarding educational and economic outcomes will help students choose post-secondary educational programs that are best for them. Many community college administrators believe improving access to such data will ultimately attract more students to technical schools and vocational training programs, increasing the number of candidates interested in pursuing careers in roofing and other industries as a result.
Hearings regarding these bills and other workforce-related legislation being considered for inclusion in a broad Higher Education Act reform package have been held in recent months, and key lawmakers on the committees of jurisdiction are working to bridge partisan disagreements. The efforts are being led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking Democrat. Alexander, who is retiring from Congress at the end of 2020, has indicated getting a Higher Education Act reform bill enacted into law is his top priority for the remainder of his term. If reforms are not successful, it is possible the JOBS Act, the College Transparency Act and other individual bills may be considered as stand-alone legislation by Congress.
Participants in Roofing Day in D.C. 2019, the annual roofing industry advocacy event in Washington, D.C., advocated for these two bills in April, and workforce issues will again be addressed during Roofing Day in D.C. 2020, which will be held April 21-22.
Investments in education and training never have been more important to the roofing industry, and these initiatives can help workers obtain the skills and credentials needed to succeed in rewarding careers in roofing and other industries. NRCA will continue working in support of these initiatives designed to address future workforce needs.
This column is part of Rules + Regs. Click here to read additional stories from this section.