News-in-Brief – October 2013

Americans Lack Critical Workplace Skills

According to a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), American adults rank far behind counterparts in most other developed countries in mathematical and technical skills needed for success in today’s workplace. The Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which evaluates the skills of adults in 24 countries, also highlights a large gap between Americans and other nations surveyed in literacy skills.

PIAAC provides a look at key skills and how they are utilized at work and at home. A major element is an assessment of how critical information-processing skills – literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving – are used in modern technology-rich environments.

Americans with lower levels of education were not the only segment of the population that fared poorly on the assessment. Even middle-aged adults, with among the highest levels of education of comparable populations around the world, did only slightly better than the average in skills attainment. Young adults in particular did not measure up to international peers across all three domains that were assessed.

This study represents the first results based on new assessments developed by the OECD, founded in 1961 to “promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.” The test was given in 2011 and 2012 to thousands of participants, ages 16 to 65, in 23 countries. Earlier skills studies mostly examined only literacy and were conducted in fewer countries.

In all three areas tested, Japan ranked first and Finland came in second in average scores, followed closely by the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway. Spain, Italy, and France were at or near the bottom in literacy and numeracy and did not participate in the technology assessment. The United States scored near the middle in literacy and near the bottom in numeracy and technology. In math skills, only 9 percent of Americans scored in the top two of five proficiency levels, while the average across the 23 countries tested was 12 percent and 19 percent in the top three countries.

The American results highlighted a significant gap between high and low achievers, with the U.S. having more people in both the highest and lowest proficiency levels. There was also a very wide chasm between skills levels of individuals who are employed and those who are not. The gap was the largest between Americans who have not finished high school and their peers in other countries.

The report includes a number of public policy implications. One recommendation related to individuals with disabilities suggests the need to “create flexible working arrangements to accommodate workers with care obligations and disabilities.” The recommendation notes that “inflexible working conditions can make it difficult for…individuals with disabilities to participate in the labor force,” and that “access to full disability-benefit schemes” helps keep people with disabilities in the workforce.

Statements from U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan and other top level Department officials indicate a great deal of concern about the PIAAC results. The Secretary indicated that the U.S. education system needs to do a better job to help Americans compete, or these individuals “will find the doors of the 21st century workforce closed to them.” View the report and other information on PIAAC

Eleventh Hour Deal Keeps Country Solvent

After almost three weeks of a government shutdown, Congress passed a bill to fund the government until January 15 at sequestration levels. The deal also prevented the country from defaulting on its debts by extended the debt limit until February 7. In addition, a budget conference committee will meet and report by December 13 to provide appropriators with the spending cap for the rest of FY 2014.

The bill passed by Congress on October 16 is a Continuing Resolution (CR), which is a stopgap measure to fund the government until final appropriations for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2014 (FY 2014) can be settled. The funding level through the term of the CR is the FY 2013 appropriation level, including the 5.3 percent across the board sequestration cuts.

In the House of Representatives, 285 members voted for the deal – 87 Republicans and 198 Democrats, with 144 Republicans voting against. In the Senate, 51 Democrats, 28 Republicans, and 2 Independents voted yes, with 18 Republicans opposing and one member not voting due to health reasons.

Other provisions of the deal are as follows:

  • Income verification for recipients of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act health exchanges.
  • Back pay for furloughed federal workers.
  • Requirement for a proactive vote to disapproveextending the debt limit through the February 7 end date established in the deal, as opposed to having regular votes to raise it.

The CR also includes language that extends through the 2015-16 school year the provision allowing individuals in alternate teacher certification programs, from the day they begin their training, to be considered highly qualified under No Child Left Behind. This provision was originally inserted in a December 2010 Continuing Resolution. LDA has been part of a large coalition that continues to work to eliminate this provision.

We will keep you posted as the Budget Conference convenes. Hopefully a compromise can be reached that will avoid further interruption of government services.

Rules Focus on Hiring Individuals with Disabilities

New regulations have been issued by the U.S. Department of Labor updating Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. These rules require federal contractors and subcontractors to be proactive in recruiting, hiring, training, and promoting qualified individuals with disabilities and have been in force for 40 years since the Rehab Act was passed in 1973.

The new Section 503 rule adds a hiring goal for federal contractors and subcontractors, requiring 7 percent of each job group in their workforce to be qualified persons with disabilities. The rule also adds specific actions contractors must take regarding recruitment, training, record keeping, and policy dissemination. These actions are similar to requirements that have been in place for many years promoting equality for women and minorities in federal contracting.

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), of which LDA is an active member, has expressed concern that between the time comments were requested on the proposed rules and the release of the final regulations some protections have been lost. However, CCD also has indicated to the Department of Labor that the new rules should be a strong basis for increasing the number of people with disabilities in the federal workforce.

CCD sent a letter to the Department of Labor listing the following issues:

  • Lack of a separate subgoal which would enable the Department to monitor whether individuals with significant disabilities are being employed.
  • No requirement that contractors maintain linkage agreements with specific entities to assist in recruiting people with disabilities, including local vocational rehabilitation agencies, veterans’ service organizations, and other organization such as One-Stops, centers for independent living, and other local disability groups.
  • Merely encouraging rather than requiring contractors to make online applications accessible.
  • Elimination of the requirement that contractors have written procedures about how to request reasonable accommodations and how these requests will be processed.
  • Elimination of the proposed requirement that contractors review annually the physical and mental qualification requirements for jobs to ensure they do not unnecessarily screen out individuals with disabilities.
  • A change in the rule that contractors annually invite employees to self-identify as individuals with disabilities to a requirement that this be done only once every five years.

The new rules take effective in early spring. Read highlights and the full regulations

House Holds First Perkins Reauthorization Hearing

The U.S. House of Representatives has begun planning for the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act with a hearing in the House Education and Workforce Committee. LDA is part of a Washington-based coalition of national organizations interested in career and technical education that will work closely on this reauthorization. Career and technical education (CTE) enjoys bipartisan support in Congress and is seen as a strong link to good employment opportunities and economic growth. More…

The hearing, Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs: A Discussion on Career and Technical Education and Training Programs, focused on how CTE programs are helping students and the economy. Witnesses highlighted a range of successful programs, examining digital learning, apprenticeships, dual enrollment, business and industry partnerships, industry certifications, internships and other work-based learning, and programs of study. Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman of the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Subcommittee that hosted the hearing, requested witnesses to provide written responses after the hearing regarding how consistency in CTE program quality across the country can be assured without adding a lot of federal requirements.

Additional hearings will most likely be held as the process of reauthorization gets underway. Timing for introduction of a Perkins bill is unclear, given that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization has not been completed. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has begun to look at the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and is currently not working on Perkins. Read witness testimony, opening statements, or watch an archived webcast of the hearing

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