Lawmakers Discuss the Role of Short-Term Pell in Increasing Skills-Based Hiring

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The House Education and the Workforce Committee on Thursday held a hearing focusing on skills-based hiring, which touched on issues of college affordability, student loan debt, and short-term Pell Grants. 

Four experts spoke during the hearing, including Karin Kimbrough, chief economist at LinkedIn Corporation; Mark Smith, director of HR thought leadership at the Society for Human Resource Management; Papia Debroy, senior vice president of insights at Opportunity@Work; and Dan Healey, head of people for customer success at SAP.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the committee, said there is an urgent need to “match the competencies of our future workforce with in-demand jobs,” and noted that she looks forward to bipartisan cooperation in reauthorizing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). 

“It is time we reassess the definition of success in our society,” Foxx said. “Despite nearly two-thirds of Americans aged 25 and older not possessing a bachelor's degree, we have perpetuated the notion that such degrees are the only pathway to the middle class … We need to speak honestly about the educational paths we offer and prioritize skills acquisition, whether through work experience, military service, community college, certificate programs, or online learning.” 

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), ranking member of the committee, during his opening remarks said that requiring a college education contributes to economic disparities for those who disproportionately face barriers to completing higher education. One solution, Scott said, would be enacting his Jobs to Compete Act, which expands Pell Grant access to short-term training programs. House Republicans this year also unveiled their own legislation that would allow students enrolled in certain short-term programs to qualify for Workforce Pell Grants.

“Over the years, far too many employers have fallen into the habit of requiring college degrees for jobs that do not necessarily require them,” Scott said. “This approach dismisses qualified job applicants who are skilled and able to work but are not even eligible because they do not hold a college degree. Both employers and our economy are losing out on the roughly two-thirds of talented, working-age Americans who do not hold a four-year degree.”

Foxx began the questioning of the four employment and economy experts by asking Healey what prevents employers from shifting to skills-based hiring and what Congress can do to break these barriers. Healey said employers have difficulty assessing and validating skills and voiced his support for short-term Pell Grants. 

Kimbrough also said that short-term Pell would help expand opportunities for those without bachelor’s degrees. 

“The more skills that a [LinkedIn] member has, as I said before, the more opportunities they have to be recognized by recruiters and hires and actually secure a job faster,” Kimbrough said. “And I will say that we find that people who are sub-baccalaureate actually benefit disproportionately more by adding skills to their profile.”

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) said that while he supports short-term Pell Grants, getting a credential or certificate even with a Pell Grant can still be difficult for some because of limits to how much the stipends under WIOA can cover costs. That makes issues like affording child care, transportation, rent, and other necessities difficult. Kimbrough agreed that it’s crucial for others to have access to certificate and credential programs.  

“We see that it's really important for workers to have all their needs met in order to be able to explore careers because careers are not prescribed anymore,” Kimbrough said. “It is important and imperative that we find ways to expand all the pathways for people to access skills, and then be able to demonstrate them and have them validated so they can have career progression and receive better wages.” 

Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) closed the hearing by stressing on the need for innovation on what Congress can legislate to improve skills-based hiring. 

“We want to think outside the box,” Owens said. “How can we get all these millions of young and old people to be in a position where they can pursue what they really believe is important and really fall in love with the opportunities we have in this country?”


Publication Date: 6/23/2023

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