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Senate makes progress on workforce priorities

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The first bill perfected in the Missouri Senate this year is a key workforce priority for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

On Feb. 16, Senators gave first round approval to Senate Bill 672. The bill would expand and extend the Missouri’s innovative Fast Track program.

Championed by the Missouri Chamber and passed into law in 2019, this financial aid program addresses workforce needs by encouraging adults to pursue a certificate, degree, or industry-recognized credential in a job field designated as high need.

Legislation is urgently needed in 2022 as Fast Track is set to expire this year.

Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Republican from Springfield, is sponsoring Senate Bill 672 to keep Fast Track going, and expand access by allowing the program to be used for apprenticeships as well.

Meanwhile, two other important workforce bills received hearings in a Senate committee.

Senate Bill 703 would ensure Missouri students are making individual career and academic plans to help them find success after high school. The bill also requires students to fill out financial aid forms to help students understand that there are likely opportunities to offset the cost of higher education. The bill would also better equip the state’s 57 career centers with resources to help students get trained for the workforce.

Bill sponsor Sen. Karla Eslinger, a Republican from Wasola, has decades of experience as an educator. She said the legislation would address real issues she experienced during her career.

“One of the things that I required of my seniors, was that, ‘Before I shake your hand in May, I want you to have a plan. You don’t have to stick to it. It’s not saying that you’ve got to do that. But at least take the time to think about what it is you would like to do once you finish your high school career,’” Eslinger told the Senate Education Committee.

Eslinger also cited a new study from the National College Attainment Network showing that Missouri students were leaving $71.3 million in Pell Grants unclaimed, likely because they weren’t aware financial aid was available.

The same committee also heard testimony on Senate Bill 659 by Sen. Mike Cierpiot, a Republican from Lee’s Summit.

This bill would require Missouri’s elementary, middle and high schools to offer computer science courses.

“There are serious employment issues in Missouri and in America,” said Sen. Cierpiot. “These skills will ensure our young people have exposure and hopefully spark interest in this growing area of our economy.”

The Missouri Chamber continues to strongly support these bills and several other proposals to enhance workforce training in our state.

The strong push for workforce legislation this year comes as more than half of business leaders say talent is the top issue impacting their profitability, according to a recent Missouri Chamber poll. Furthermore, nearly 70 percent of Missouri employers say workforce is either the first or second biggest thing impacting their growth.

For more information, contact Missouri Chamber Vice President of Governmental Affairs Kara Corches at kcorches@mochamber.com or 573-634-3511.

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