Workforce training leads topics at the Capitol

IFAI Day on Capitol Hill and federal lobbying event was held in Washington, D.C., April 28–29. The focus of this event was to introduce members of Congress to the specialty fabrics industry and to highlight the need for trained workers in the textiles industry.

Two of IFAI’s divisions have held similar events for many years, advocating for their segment of IFAI membership. USIFI (U.S. Industrial Fabric Institute) holds lobbying events each spring and generally expresses support for the Berry Amendment, the requirement that the US military purchase U.S.-made goods, and it advocates for favorable treatment for the textile industry in trade agreements. The GMA (Geosynthetic Materials Association) holds lobbying events twice a year at the federal level and periodically at the state level, advocating for the increase and proper use of geosynthetic materials. Both USIFI and GMA contract with lobbying firms that manage their issues and events.

This is the first time since the 1990’s that IFAI as a company has entered the world of government relations. IFAI began this program so issues that affect all members could be represented in a government relations program.

Attendee Kathy Schaefer, Glawe Tent & Awning Co., Fairborn, Ohio, said she was “tremendously pleased with the organized process and learning experience. … By attending as a member of IFAI as opposed to an individual, we enjoyed a forum of interested parties. I am confident our message was heard.”

Finding qualified employees is the most common issue that IFAI members identify as a need for success in their businesses. As such, this event included workforce training as a key talking point.

Nine IFAI member companies were in attendance at this event, representing a broad swath of products in the industry. The first day, these companies participated in an IFAI education forum in the Rayburn House Office Building, with congressional staff and members of Congress attending to learn about the industry. The forum included direct conversations regarding the industry, tabletop displays of the attendees’ businesses and products, as well as a PowerPoint loop that highlighted the products and demographics of the industry. The day ended with a dinner and briefing by Whitmer and Worrall, the firm that IFAI hired to organize the event.

The second day began with a meeting and briefing with the House Committee on Education and Workforce staffer Rosemary Lahasky, who outlined the key features of legislation that would streamline the federal rules pertaining to the use of federal funds by the state workforce training programs. Current federal rules make it difficult for states to spend the funds efficiently and these rules make the process cumbersome for industry participation.

IFAI member companies attending the meeting shared their specific problems in finding qualified workers and what worked and didn’t work for them when dealing with government training programs. It was clear to those in attendance that Lahasky genuinely appreciated the input she received from industry representatives.

“I admire the candor of Rosemary Lahasky, said Katie Bradford, MFC, Custom Marine Canvas, Noank, Conn. “If the bill, which passed the House in March, passes the Senate, companies like mine could earn Federal dollars for in-house training. We train all our own employees, and we also train people from outside the company to start their own businesses.”

The balance of that day consisted of 10 meetings with congressional offices in the House and Senate where IFAI members attending were constituents. Each meeting provided an overview of IFAI and the industry, noting that it is a $15 billion industry employing nearly 130,000 U.S. workers. IFAI members reinforced the presence that IFAI has in these congressional districts, and we were able to address specific issues for attending companies, as well. In all meetings, the issue of workforce training was part of the conversation.

Andrew Aho is IFAI director of membership and divisions. He can be reached at +1 651 225 6907 or amaho@ifai.com.