State lawmakers have approved a huge investment in helping historically marginalized Oregonians find new careers and reenter the workforce following two years of economic hardship caused by the global pandemic.
Senate Bill 1545, known as Future Ready Oregon, puts $200 million into new and existing programs that connect people to job training, apprenticeships and education with a focus on supporting women, rural residents, people of color and low-income Oregonians.
It also provides services for people who face barriers to employment and education, such as transportation to school or job training opportunities, child care, and assistance with tuition and housing costs.
The plan passed the House Thursday, 48-10. Senators OK’d it 23-3 earlier in the week.
The investment comes at the request of Gov. Kate Brown and prioritizes manufacturing, health care and construction jobs. It will use a mix of state general fund dollars and money the state has left over from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Matching people to their passion
Brown announced the plan at a business summit in December; she said improving how the state helps people find careers is a priority in her last year as governor. Term limits bar her from seeking another term.
The jobs plan was created by a committee of leaders in workforce development hand-picked by the governor’s office, which collaborated with partners representing community colleges, regional workforce development and talent boards, and the state’s Racial Justice Council.
A few highlights of the investment include $95 million to establish a new workforce readiness grant program, $35 million for local workforce development boards helping low-income workers find jobs, $20 million to expand registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs and $10 million to hire staff who help people navigate the benefits available to them through this plan.
Patsy Richards — director of Long-Term CareWorks, a group that helps health care workers with training and job placement, and a leader in writing the bill — said one of the most important aspects will help people assess what they’re passionate about and attempt to find a good fit for their skills.
“Workforce development is not about putting a square in a circle, it’s about finding your niche,” Richards said.
Portland Community College President Mark Mitsui said he’s observed the barriers that prevent people such as single mothers, low-income students and BIPOC Oregonians from being successful in completing their education or workforce training.
“There’s going to be a lot more hands helping folks to get from where they are, to where they want to go,” he said. “I’ve not seen this kind of state investment in my career.”
The soft costs of finding work
Mitsui said that while tuition gets a lot of attention as a major barrier for people looking to find a new career, that’s only the “tip of the iceberg.”
The bulk of the metaphorical iceberg, Mitsui says, are the high cost of childcare, bus money to get to and from an apprenticeship job site, money to buy scrubs for nursing internship programs, inability to pay for health care and other “soft” costs many don’t assume to factor into the equation.
Mitsui pointed to a survey PCC issued with Temple University’s Hope Center. Forty percent of respondents said they experience food insecurity, and 50% said they struggle with housing insecurity.
“If you want a reimagined opportunity framework here in Oregon, if you want a more equitable prosperity for our state, then this is an important bill to support,” he said.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate spoke generally in support of the plan.
“I think it’s going to be very positive for Oregon’s economy,” said Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner.
Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem, said it will positively impact the health care workforce shortage Oregon is currently experiencing, a well-known problem before the pandemic which has only worsened over the past two years.
“Senate Bill 1545 will help Oregonians build their careers in health care, improving quality of care for patients across the state, and setting Oregonians from disadvantaged backgrounds on the path to rewarding lifelong careers,” she said.
But not all were in favor.
Sen. Fred Girod, R-Lyons, said he couldn’t support the plan due to what he feels is uncertainty in how the state’s federal rescue act allocation is being used and a general aversion to large expenditures.
“This budget, I have to tell you, stinks,” Girod said.
The comment drew the ire of Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who rebuked Girod for stepping over the line of decorum.
Girod snapped back, saying he was within his rights to criticize the Democrats’ spending plan.
Two Democrats in the House — Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, and Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene — also expressed concern.
Evans said he supports the investments but plans to keep a close eye on the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, which will oversee how much of the money is spent and coordinate with the Bureau of Labor and Industry, as well as the state employment department, to collect data on the plan’s effectiveness.
“This is a situation where the commission is being handed a gift, and I don’t know if they understand yet how much or important this is, but they get one shot,” he said. “If they misspend even one penny… there will be accountability like people haven’t seen.”