For the first time in 50 years, Democrats and Republicans are both embracing industrial policy–but that doesn’t mean it will pay off for workers


In his own State of the Union address, President Joe Biden highlighted how their policies are creating tens of thousands of new jobs and attracting billions of dollars of business in sectors such as clean energy and advanced manufacturing. The speech underscores what is becoming Biden’s economic trademark: corporate policy.

It seems that the once abandoned financial system is enjoying a resurgence. Throughout the time I worked at the United States Department of Labor, which had three very different administrations, I saw people hate industrial policy. Sometimes that leaders would discuss the topic, the responses of many of my friends were disappointed and derisive. Democrats – and, to some extent, economists – were encouraged by the idea of ​​targeting policy across industries. The hesitancy was, in part, fueled by mistrust – which economists say Dani Rodrik explains such as “kneeling hostility”—betting on companies to fulfill their commitment to the greater economy and its workers.

Republicans, meanwhile, may have had more faith in the private sector, but were generally reluctant to intervene in the market using public funds. As Brian Deese, former director of the National Economic Council, they put“For many years in the last 500 years, even saying the words ‘industrial system’ was the difference between scorn and concern.”

A major policy change

But times are changing. Under President Biden’s leadership, the White House has not only invested heavily in the semiconductor, manufacturing, and clean energy industries, but also in infrastructure, transportation, and broadband — but it has done so with bipartisan support. It is clear that corporate values ​​are being accepted politically. What is not known is whether this money will succeed where it has tried before struggled to make impact. Federal, state, and labor leaders will need to work together to ensure that these policy changes fulfill their potential to change the lives of working Americans for the better.

This starts with making sure that workers who have previously been left behind can benefit from – and thrive in – the jobs that these investments create.

Encouraged by laws like the CHIPS and Science Act, chip makers are building plants across the country. In recent months, some of the major manufacturers have announced delays, regarding the lack of skilled workers. Then, Deloitte he thinks that the semiconductor industry will be short of about 90,000 such workers over the next few years. Biden’s recent investment of $5 billion is, in part, a recognition of the problem, with hundreds of millions of those dollars being directed toward training more semiconductor engineers. But with the need for skilled workers growing rapidly in a number of critical industries, it will take more effort and money to improve the quality of education in the country.

Employees as a requirement

While government systems play an important role in connecting workers to opportunities, they are struggling to match Biden’s corporate policies. Communities are looking to address the mismatch between public investment in job creation and investment in job training and other workforce support. They are also looking at the mismatch between the types of education they provide historically and the needs of employers at the end of federal funding. Public employment opportunities and local education providers, especially community and technical colleges, have been making it their mission to promote opportunities for workers who may not otherwise be locked out. Meeting the demands of the resumption of industrial policy will require rethinking how these organizations work together to create opportunities for intentional, sector-specific training for workers.

In Ohio, for example, companies like Intel, Hondaand Amgen they are investing billions of dollars in chip manufacturing, electric vehicle manufacturing, and biomanufacturing facilities. In response, the state has commissioned Columbus State Community College to lead the effort to build a pipeline of thousands of skilled workers. The college is developing deep partnerships with employers, labor unions, K-12 and higher education partners, government leaders, nonprofits, and other stakeholders.

Equally important is investing in supportive services that ensure that the workers who will most benefit from these new jobs can undertake the training necessary to do so. Such workers must balance educational or training opportunities with their existing work and family responsibilities.

In fact, a section within CHIPS and the Science Act acknowledges these restrictions. Companies seeking more than $150 million in federal aid must give their construction and construction workers access to high-quality, affordable child care. The need for childcare and other support services doesn’t just start on an employee’s first day at work, however. Workforce development programs should also include resources that help employees focus on the training they need to improve their careers.

Most of the jobs created by industrial policy are well-paid and offer workers more opportunities for career advancement. He is good work which promotes economic mobility and can be a means of targeting the middle class. This, however, depends on the ability of workers to develop the skills they need to get the jobs.

As these administrations and the future debate whether to double down on the industrial policy, it is very important to evaluate the actual results of such investments. The sudden return of industrial policy must be measured not only by how well the process helps the United States compete in global manufacturing but also by how it changes the lives of American workers and their communities.

Maria Flynn is the president and CEO of the national education and workforce nonprofit Jobs for the Future (JFF) and previously served as an executive in the US Department of Labor during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

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