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Murray Helps Snohomish County Train Workers and Support Economic Growth

Jul 01 2004

At awards celebration, Murray updates community on her Workforce Investment Act Proposal

(MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, WA) – Tonight, U.S. Senator Patty Murray helped honor Snohomish County residents and businesses for their work supporting jobs and the local economy. Murray spoke at "Celebrate Success," the annual Snohomish County Workforce Development Council awards dinner.

"You've rolled up your sleeves to help connect workers and businesses here in Snohomish County, and your work is making a difference," Murray told the 200 attendees.

As Ranking Democrat on the Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee, Murray plays a key role in funding and improving local workforce programs. She has worked to close the job skills gap.

"Too many workers are either unable to find employment or are working in low-skilled, low wage jobs. At the same time, employers are literally begging for, but cannot find, skilled workers," Murray said. "That's just unacceptable especially in these times of high unemployment."

Murray noted that Washington state's workforce community has had to train more workers with fewer dollars.

"We've seen our formula workforce funds reduced by over $50 million over the last two years," Murray said.

That's why last September, Murray offered an amendment on the Senate floor to increase funding for workforce-related programs by $801 million. Unfortunately, Murray's amendment was defeated.

Murray also talked about her efforts to improve the workforce system through a bill she helped write, the Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization Bill.

"The bill I put together improves services to businesses by including customized and incumbent worker training options," Murray said. "My bill also gives our one-stops more flexibility to serve their customers, and it gives businesses a larger role in workforce investment boards."

Murray's bill was endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and the National Association of Workforce Boards. Murray closed by thanking local leaders in Snohomish County and throughout Washington state for their input in crafting her workforce bill.

"When it comes to workforce development, we all share the same goal. We want to close the gap between what employers are looking for and what workers can offer," Murray said. "Thank you for leading a revolution in the way we prepare our workers for tomorrow's jobs."

Senator Murray's remarks as follow:

Thank you, Bob Drewel, and good evening to all of you. Senator Cantwell, Congressman Larsen, and friends, in this room, we've gathered the people who are working hard to help restore our local economy and to support the families and businesses of Snohomish County. I am honored to celebrate with all of you tonight.

We all recognize that this is a challenging time for our state. While things are picking up a bit, I'm still not satisfied with where our economy stands today, and I know that you aren't satisfied either. And the proof of that is in what you've been doing to make things better. You've rolled up your sleeves to help connect workers and businesses here in Snohomish County, and your work is making a difference. I especially want to commend our workforce board members here tonight. Would they all stand so we could recognize them? You've taken time away from your work and your other responsibilities to volunteer on behalf of your neighbors, and I thank you for your service. Everyone in this room has helped to close the gap between the skills that local businesses are looking for and the skills our workers have to offer.

I had a chance to work with many of you in landing the 7E7. That victory means great jobs and a bright future for this community. It is also a vote of confidence in our ability to provide our workers with the skills to deal with composites and other new manufacturing techniques. Boeing was confident building the 7E7 here because they know our workforce community could handle the challenge. And together we're going to prove them right. And later tonight, we'll give out some awards and honor individuals and businesses for their great contribution to the local economy.

Before we do that, I want to let you know what I've been doing in Washington, D.C. to complement your efforts here in Snohomish County. As you know, I'm the Ranking Member of the Senate's Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training. So I'm right there at the table as the Senate updates the Workforce Investment Act.

And as I've worked on a new WIA bill over the last year, I've shared drafts with every workforce board in our state so that you are also at the table –making sure our federal policies will do right by Washington's workers and businesses.

When it comes to workforce development, we all share the same goal. We want to close the gap between what employers are looking for and what workers can offer. In recent years, our country has experienced a skills gap. Too many workers are either unable to find employment or are working in low-skilled, low wage jobs. At the same time, employers are literally begging for, but cannot find, skilled workers. That's just unacceptable especially in these times of high unemployment.

A recent survey by our state workforce board showed the gap that we must close. The survey found that 55% -- of the 3,000 employers surveyed -- hired new employees in the past 12 months. That's the good news. But the bad news is that 45% had difficulty finding qualified applicants. This works out to roughly one in four employers in Washington State who are having trouble finding qualified workers – even with so many people out of work today. And we see the impact here in Snohomish County, where the unemployment rate is 6.5% -- still above our state and national averages.

It's clear we need to better equip our workers to meet the needs of our industries. The skills gap is most severe in construction, high-tech, manufacturing, health care and trade-related occupations. We need to direct our worker training to the areas where the jobs will be. In Snohomish County, some of the areas that will see future job growth include biochemists and math scientists, medical and dental technicians, precision instrument operators and repairers, mechanical drafters, and construction trades workers.

All of you play a key role in making sure that our friends and neighbors can fill the jobs of tomorrow. I recognize that our workforce programs are being asked to do more with less. Over the last three years, federal workforce dollars have been cut by over $500 million. That's put a lot more pressure on our local workforce boards. Here in Washington, we've seen our formula workforce funds reduced by over $50 million over the last two years. But you've worked in the face of those cuts. In particular, you've done a great job of partnering with the private sector to really leverage that limited federal support.

In the Senate, I've been working to restore some federal support. Last September I offered an amendment on the Senate floor to increase funding for workforce related programs by $801 million, including $150 million for one-stop infrastructures. Unfortunately, my amendment was defeated on the Senate floor. But I'm going to keep fighting for the support you need.

I want to thank many of you for sharing your feedback with me as I helped craft the Workforce Investment reauthorization bill. Thanks to your input, we're developing a system that is more responsive to the economic development needs of local communities.

For example, the bill I put together improves services to businesses by including customized and incumbent worker training options. My bill also gives our one-stops more flexibility to serve their customers. And, it gives businesses a larger role in workforce investment boards.

I'm pleased to report that my bill passed the full Senate with bipartisan support – and with the endorsement of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and the National Association of Workforce Boards. Now we need the House and the Senate to reach an agreement on the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act, so we can put the improvements you asked for into law.

I want you to know that I'm going to keep fighting for the things you need in the United States Senate, and I’m going to use my position on the Appropriations Committee and the Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee to be your voice. Together, we can build on the progress you're making in Snohomish County. So thank you for coming tonight. Thank you for leading a revolution in the way we prepare our workers for tomorrow's jobs. And thank you for working so hard to help our friends and neighbors build a strong community.