Reporter’s notebook

  • Senate panel passes Su nomination for labor secretary
  • Construction advocates cite CTE defunding
  • House Democrats re-introduce apprenticeship bill

Senate panel passes Su nomination for labor secretary

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday approved Julie Su’s nomination for secretary of labor. Su is currently deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

The committee vote was along party lines, 11-10. The full Senate will next vote on the nomination, though a date has not yet been announced.

Related article: Labor secretary nominee touts apprenticeships

At Wednesday’s committee hearing, several Democrats praised Su for her work at DOL and in her previous job as secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. A few Republicans criticized her, saying she had an anti-business record and a “record of partisan activism.”

How the full Senate will vote on Su is uncertain, with several Democratic or independent senators still mum on whether they will support Su’s confirmation on the Senate floor.

Construction advocates cite CTE defunding

“There is nobody to hire.”

That’s what Bruno Schickel, a small construction company owner in Ithaca, New York, told a House Small Business subcommittee on Wednesday during a hearing on alternative pathways to college that can also benefit small businesses.

Schickel told lawmakers that his company could easily increase its business volume by 20% to 30% if it had more workers. His concerns mirror a national workforce shortage in the construction industry. The National Association of Home Builders estimates there will be a shortfall of 2.2 million workers over the next two years.

Meloni Raney, president and CEO of TEXO. (Screenshot from streamed hearing)

Several of the other witnesses at the hearing also expressed concerns about finding enough employees for construction and other trade areas as new infrastructure projects begin to roll out thanks to massive federal investments.

The panel of experts said a steady defunding of career and technical education (CTE) for secondary education programs is a primary reason why fewer Americans are interested in the trades, coupled with a push to make college degrees a priority.

“For every dollar the federal government spends urging students to enroll in college and enter the service sector, it invests only 20 cents in CTE,” said Meloni Raney, president and CEO of TEXO, the largest commercial contractors association in Texas. “This higher education bias is doing a disservice to our nation’s youth by encouraging a massive accumulation of debt that often doesn’t lead to a career in their field of study and fails to provide employers with a skilled and trained workforce.”

Construction companies are themselves trying to fill the training void by offering apprenticeships and other hands-on learning, Raney said. Her organization has three main focus areas for outreach: high school, college and diversity, equity and inclusion, she said.

House Democrats re-introduce apprenticeship bill

House Democrats this week re-introduced bipartisan apprenticeship legislation, versions of which over the past few years have passed or come close to passing on the House floor but then stalled.

According to Democrats, the National Apprenticeship Act of 2023 would, in part:

  • Authorize $400 million for fiscal year (FY) 2025, increasing by $100 million annually to $800 million for FY 2029, which would create nearly 1 million new apprenticeship opportunities.
  • Codify and streamline standards for registered apprenticeships, youth apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs, including requirements for apprenticeship agreements and program registration to ensure consistency in quality standards and worker protections.
  • Codify regulations and practices to ensure that all individuals have an equal opportunity to participate in programs under the national apprenticeship system, and to increase diversity in the occupations offered and the individuals participating in programs, especially in high-skill, high-wage, and in-demand industry sectors and occupations.
  • Codify the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Apprenticeship.
  • Codify the roles and responsibilities of the state apprenticeship agencies.
  • Strengthen the connections between the DOL and U.S. Education Department through an interagency agreement to support the creation and expansion of youth apprenticeships, college consortiums and data-sharing agreements.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.