In recent years, U.S. employers have complained of shortages of workers with higher-level skills in information technology, the sciences, and other fields. To find workers with these skills, employers often turn to foreign workers who enter the United States with H-1B visas to work in specialty occupations. Despite the recent economic downturn, employers report that they continue to need higher-skilled workers. Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to create a system connecting employment, education, and training services to better match workers to labor market needs. In 1998, Congress passed legislation raising limits on the number of high-skilled workers entering the United States and imposing a $500 fee on employers--which was later raised to $1000--for each foreign worker for whom they applied. Most of the money collected is to be spent on training that improves the skill of U.S. workers. The National Science Foundation (NSF) receives 22 percent of the funds to distribute as scholarship grants to post-secondary schools that distribute the funds as scholarships for low-income students in computer science, engineering, and mathematics degree programs. The grantees operating skill grant programs use the flexibility allowed by the Department of Labor to administer training through a variety of service delivery options to individuals whose skills need to be upgraded, whereas NSF's scholarship grant programs provide scholarships to low-income students for college degree programs. The training offered by the skill grant programs is based on local workforce needs, although sometimes for lower-skill jobs than those filled by H-1B visa holders, and the scholarship program's training is based on national workforce needs and the types of jobs that many H-1B visa holders fill. Although federal initiatives are not coordinated to strategically address high-skill needs at a national level, local skill grant programs increased coordination, though Labor provided limited assistance to enhance these efforts.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Labor||To ensure that the skill grant program can assess its effectiveness and that information about grantees' successful approaches are shared throughout the program, the Secretary of Labor should implement the new quarterly reporting requirements and expand these requirements to also include information on individual participants and the level of training that is being provided so they can better measure whether the program is achieving its goals.|
|Department of Labor||To ensure that the skill grant program can assess its effectiveness and that information about grantees' successful approaches are shared throughout the program, the Secretary of Labor should establish ongoing mechanisms to share successful strategies among grantees and encourage networking.|
|National Science Foundation||To ensure that the scholarship program improves its ability to attract and retain students to computer science, engineering, and mathematic fields, the Director of NSF should establish mechanisms to share successful strategies and encourage networking among the postsecondary schools that are grantees.|
|Department of Labor||In addition, in a more overarching effort to be responsive to workforce development needs, the Secretary of Labor should be proactive in building a comprehensive approach within the Department and across federal agencies to address high-skill workforce needs across the country.|