Construction industry groups praised a new law that they say will make it easier for more employers to provide training to their workers. President Obama on July 22 signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which aims particularly to provide lower-  and middle-income workers better access to job training.

The new law makes a number of changes to the Workforce Investment Act, which dates back to 1998.

Some groups say they would like to see further reforms enacted to truly address the growing shortage of workers in the construction industry, but those moves are not likely in Congress this year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction's need for workers will grow twice as fast as the average for all industries. BLS projects that the industry will face a shortage of 1.6 million workers by 2022.

Jim Young, a director of congressional relations for the Associated General Contractors of America, said that federal and state rules often make it difficult for open-shop contractors to create apprenticeship programs that are recognized by the federal government.

As a result, many firms are hesitant to pay for the cost of training on their own, he says. The new law should make it easier for employers to participate in and provide training through federal apprenticeship and other training programs, he says.

Some of the changes include ensuring that basic skills training in subjects such as remedial math, English and reading conducted through local Workforce Investment Boards, align with skills needed to apply for and complete registered apprenticeship programs.

Young adds that the new law trims the boards, which are responsible for overseeing and facilitating training programs in their localities, to a more “nimble” size that can make decisions more efficiently.

The new law "is an important step toward addressing the shortage of qualified workers in the construction industry,” said Geoff Burr, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president of government affairs. “This much-needed legislation will help ensure that local stakeholders are involved in shaping job training efforts and that more job seekers have access to training programs that will prepare them for career opportunities in their local economies.”

Earlier this year, AGC released a legislative plan for improving access to training for workers. Although the new workforce act was a part of that plan, other elements included reforming the Perkins Act—the primary funding vehicle for U.S. career and technical education programs—as well as encouraging private monies for open-shop craft training programs similar to the way unions currently fund their training programs.

But AGC’s Young acknowledges that the additional elements of his association’s plan will not likely see congressional action this year.