WASHINGTON — During a Senate agriculture subcommittee hearing, Sen. Joe Donnelly questioned Doug O’Brien, U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy undersecretary for rural development, on what the USDA is doing to help train the next generation of workers and invest in infrastructure in rural communities.

O’Brien agreed with Donnelly, D-Ind., that workforce development in rural areas is of the utmost importance.

“One of the things I worry about is losing our young people in a lot of our rural communities, and it’s jobs, it’s quality of life, it is the chance to have them trained with appropriate skills, to have the infrastructure in the town or community to encourage good jobs to come,” Donnelly said.

“But losing the young people it almost creates a spiral that starts, and so after skills and after infrastructure, what are the other things that you look at and say, ‘here are the kind of elements that are critical to keeping people at home and having them build their future right here?’”

O’Brien said workforce development investments in rural areas often give the greatest return while also acknowledging the need to invest in infrastructure, including greater high-speed Internet capabilities, in rural areas.

He commented that some of the best ways the USDA can help in these efforts is through business grant programs, as well as by working closely with community colleges to train young people.

During his time on the agriculture committee, Donnelly has focused on advancing his “Opportunity Agenda” — an agenda centered around going all-in on American energy, helping workers hit the ground running by improving workforce development and training, investing in Indiana’s infrastructure and keeping the state competitive through exports and innovations.

Donnelly also continues to work to pass two of his bills designed to close the skills gap — the AMERICA Works Act and the Skills Gap Strategy Act, introduced May 1 in the House, both bipartisan bills aimed at better directing existing federal worker training resources toward the skills that employers need now.

The Skills Gap Strategy Act would direct the Department of Labor to work with the private sector to increase the amount of on-the-job training and apprenticeship opportunities.