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,”
“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
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.