Workforce legislation introduced in Congress

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Bipartisan workforce development legislation was introduced in the House last week to address a growing shortage of workers to fill jobs in the technical and skilled trades.

The American Workforce Empowerment Act — introduced by Reps. Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn., Ron Estes, R-Kan., and Paul Mitchell, R-Mich. — would allow workers to pursue vocational training using pretax dollars from their 529 savings plans for education, training, certain apprenticeships, and purchasing tools and equipment, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

The marine industry supported the bill, with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, the NMMA and Viking Yachts applauding the announcement.

“The recreational boating industry needs a skilled 21st century workforce to maintain and grow our role as a significant job creator, and this bill will go a long way toward addressing the workforce shortfall our businesses are facing,” said Nicole Vasilaros, NMMA senior vice president of government and legal affairs, in a statement. “We thank Representatives Van Drew and Hagedorn for introducing common-sense legislation that will expand access to invaluable apprenticeship programs, and we encourage all members of Congress to support this bipartisan measure.”

The bill expands Section 529 eligibility to include educational and training expenses for any training program leading to a “recognized post-secondary credential,” as defined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and National Apprenticeship Act of 1937.

"As the world’s number one sportfish boatbuilder, the Viking Yacht Co. welcomes apprenticeship programs to help us grow new skilled boatbuilders,” said CEO Patrick Healey. “Skilled labor is a great commodity for those of us in the manufacturing industry.”

“Rep. Hagedorn’s bill is a great step toward creating a more robust workforce for our many dealers and manufacturers who have struggled to find qualified technicians,” said MRAA president Matt Gruhn. “By expanding the types of programs eligible for payment by 529 savings plans — and most significantly, by making registered apprenticeship programs eligible — we can more readily close the gap on the more than 21 percent of positions that have gone unfilled in our industry.”

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