Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) hopes a proposed law he introduced in Congress Nov. 21 will help narrow the income gap between the nation’s top earners and those toiling in low paying jobs.
Two weeks and a day after submitting the Learning Education Achieving and Retraining for the Nation Act (LEARN) , Schneider got a firsthand look at how his idea can make a difference when he met Doug Rodriquez of Zion, a welder at Duroweld in Lake Bluff. The bill will provide grants and other incentives to employers who offer on the job training to new workers.
Rodriguez was a carpenter and as the Great Recession slowed the construction industry, his income began to shrink. A year ago he learned about a program combining classroom work with on the job training with Duroweld and the Lake County Workforce Investment Board (LCWIB). He got involved in the program and has a new career.
“I get my 40 hours a week and full benefits,” Rodriquez said. “It’s a great feeling.” He also likes working inside a factory. “It’s controlled weather.” Half his wages during his apprenticeship are reimbursed to Duroweld from LCWIB, according to its director, Jennifer Serino-Stasch.
Schneider sees programs like this with federal as well as local support as a path to the middle class for people working in low paying jobs. One of the biggest complaints he gets from manufacturers in the 10th Congressional District is they have openings but cannot find people with the necessary skills.
“Without on the job training it would not be possible to find someone who has the skills,” Schneider said. “Between the school (at College of Lake County) and the on the job training people can have a middle class lifestyle.”
While Schneider will not commit to supporting an increase in the minimum wage until he has a bill before him to read, he thinks programs like the LEARN Act will not only help move more people into the middle class, but will eventually help raise wages for the lowest paid workers.
“Since 2008 many of the jobs added (to the economy) have been entry level minimum wage jobs,” Schneider said. “A growing economy will add skilled laborers to the workforce. Then employers like Walmart will be forced to pay higher wages.”
As Schneider has touted his legislation and the effectiveness of public-private partnerships to help train workers for area manufacturing, particularly in small business, Duroweld General Manager Richard Austin has become a believer.
“Without the program it would not be sustainable here,” Austin said of the help he and Rodriquez got from the LCWIB program.