Senator Kamala Harris proposes Upskill Accounts for American workers

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In June, U.S. Senator Kamala C. Harris introduced a new bill to put workplace development within the financial reach of all American workers. The “21st Century Skills are Key to Individuals’ Life-Long Success (SKILLS) Act” intends to improve access to workplace training and education, and so update individual skillsets and knowledge to keep pace with the unprecedented rate of industrial change within the U.S..

Jobs training has been part of related workforce bill since 1962, most recently updated and codified in the latest Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (2013). Whereas legislation previous sanctioned the skill needs of employers, Harris’ new bill aims to create a proactive, employee-first approach to training.

Through the bill, employees will be able to establish accounts to divert pre-tax income to be spent on direct and associated cost for skills training and education. Accounts aren’t meant to provide a new store of cash, but rather an account to be spent regularly. Up to 78 million Americans will be eligible for accounts, set to three limits:

  • $8,000 if they are unemployed, dislocated, or employed and earning under 50% of state median income.

  • $6,000 if they are employed and earning 50-75% of state median income.

  • $4,000 if they are employed and earning 75-100% of state median income

Eligible workers will be able to create an “Upskill Account” at CareerOneStop.org and view relevant courses for their chosen career pathway or cluster.

Training providers are set to benefit from the uptick in spend, but will only qualify if they increase transparency of curriculum and accountability for outcome. Meanwhile accrediting agencies will be joined by employers and local workforce boards to claim grants to to be spent on identifying local needs and aligning upcoming curriculum.

The legislation has been designed with input from a range of industry perspectives covering different sectors with national coverage. These in include Olivia Golden, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Katie Spiker, Director of Government Affairs at National Skills Coalition and Leticia Lewis, Policy Director of BSA | The Software Alliance.

Read the full 31-page bill here.