Insights and Perspectives

Insights and Perspectives


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On Presidents’ Day, we traditionally celebrate the importance of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, two heads of state that greatly impacted American history. But, this calendar observance is also a chance to reflect on how a few commanders-in-chief left noteworthy marks on the workforce during their tenures in office.

By definition, the act of developing skilled labor traces its roots much further back than Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was enacted in the midst of the Great Depression to lay the groundwork for our modern economic infrastructure. Anecdotal evidence reveals that in 1563, Queen Elizabeth I mandated laws that helped English trade unions find young apprentices.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

On June 6, 1933, the Wagner-Peyser Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt as part of the Wagner Unemployment Bill, essentially creating what we know today as “labor exchange.” The law came to light through a collaborative effort from Rep. Theodore A. Peyser, Sen. Robert Wagner (both from New York), and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the act a reality.

The law established a nationwide employment system, and fostered a network of public employment offices known as the United States Employment Service. The system provided the foundation for what would later become the U.S. Department of Labor.

Bill Clinton

During Bill Clinton’s second term as president, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 was enacted to replace, amongst other pieces of other legislation, the Job Training and Partnership Act of 1982. Relying on the framework of state and local workforce investment systems, WIA’s central tenets aimed to increase participants’ employment opportunities, retention, and earnings, while also increasing occupational skill attainment.

It was the Clinton administration’s hopes that this act would improve the quality of the workforce, reduce welfare dependency, and enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the nation.

Barack Obama

On July 22, 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law. The law was designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market, and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy. Marking the first legislative reform in 15 years WIOA superseded WIA, and enhanced Wagner-Peyser.

Peering Into the Future of Presidential Impact on Workforce Development

As technology continues to transform the labor force, presidential prowess will continue to mold and shape America’s workforce. In October of 2018, President Trump pledged his commitment to developing training opportunities, and called for support from businesses and organizations of all sizes.

With unemployment rates at a 49-year low, and a record 7.1 million job openings in the United States, there will undoubtedly be opportunities for our current and future presidents to influence the labor market.

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