Published on 2013/02/01

A Federal Perspective on Expanding LiLAs

AUDIO | A Federal Perspective on Expanding LiLAs
The federal government could have a role in supporting LiLAs by incentivizing individuals and employers to invest in ongoing education and training to ensure everyone is prepared to meet tomorrow’s workforce needs.

The following interview is with Congressman Erik Paulsen, Representative for Minnesota’s third district. In 2011, Congressman Paulsen was part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who reintroduced the Lifelong Learning Accounts Act. In this interview, Congressman Paulsen shares his thoughts on Lifelong Learning Accounts (LiLAs), explains the connection between higher education and workforce development,  and raises a few ideas about how he thinks the federal government could better support the program.

1. You have been a vocal supporter of employer-supported higher education for Americans, as displayed by your backing of the Lifelong Learning Accounts Act and your co-sponsoring of the Savings Engagement for Education in College Act. Why is it so important, in your opinion, for employers to support the higher education of their employees?

We have a great opportunity to help working Americans enhance their skills through education, which helps employers gain better trained and better educated employees. The bottom line there is: you get more productive employees for the workforce. Lifelong Learning Accounts for a great way for Americans —  Minnesotans — to invest in education, their own education, working together as an individual but also with the company, and not just for their children, but for themselves.

These LiLAs encourage a partnership between workers and employers to invest in education and training, to help workers achieve their own career goals and then meet the needs of businesses and industry. The bottom line is: this is an educational tax benefit in which employers can directly match employee contributions, which will be very helpful in today’s job market.

2. What type of support could the federal government provide in the development of LiLAs? Do you think the federal government should be contributing funds to help the development of LiLAs across America?

Well, the federal government can absolutely play a role in this effort by incentivizing individuals, and employers as well, to focus on how we can assist individuals as they go through career changes to make sure they’re well trained, they’re well educated, for the next job coming down the line. The average person is not in a single career when they enter the job market for their entire life; they actually switch off and on many times. The private sector in some states have already realized that more needs to be done to give their workers more flexibility and control over obtaining additional education and training. So this is an opportunity for the federal government to help incentivize that as well.

3. What must be done in order to generate more momentum for great support of LiLAs at the federal level?

Well, the good news is that we’ve got bipartisan support for the legislation and we need to work — to continue working — together in a bipartisan manner to ensure we can move this legislation forward in helping young people and working families get the opportunity to receive high-quality education, working hard, earning their success by advancing in their jobs.

In general it comes down to educating my colleagues, members of Congress, on the benefits that these Lifelong Learning Accounts actually provide. I think members of both parties agree that when you do address the high cost of rising education and the jobs deficit and, certainly, LiLAs will fit in, and do fit in, as a component of that solution.

4. Do you have anything to add about the importance of LiLAs to American adults and the workforce of today and the future?

I will just mention that America will absolutely continue to lead the world in innovation and ideas and new opportunity if our citizens receive the best education possible, all the way from early childhood to graduate school and beyond. Lifelong Learning Accounts — these LiLAs — are one of the many tools we have now to promote higher education, re-training in the workforce and making sure that employers and employees are always looking out and investing for their future.

This interview has been edited for length.

To learn more about Lifelong Learning Accounts, please click here.

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Readers Comments

Natasha Rubin 2013/02/01 at 9:01 am

LiLAs are being touted as a way to address gaps in certain industries. However, this will only be the case if the individuals who take up LiLAs commit to studying the priority areas identified in the American job market. This type of strategic long-term planning falls into the purview of government. State governments have a role to play in identifying skills gaps and shortfalls, and designing or repurposing programs such as LiLAs to address them.

Chuck Schwartz 2013/02/01 at 10:34 am

Government incentives are good, but equally important is creating a regulatory environment where it’s easy for interested employers to participate in initiatives like the Lifelong Learning Accounts. Minnesota has caught on to the importance of this. I read elsewhere on this site that Washington State has also introduced legislation in support of LiLAs, which is another positive step.

Ewan Philipps 2013/02/01 at 2:18 pm

I agree that the federal government has a role — and an important one — to play in the development of LiLAs. Major studies, including Deloitte’s comprehensive study of 2008, have identified huge gaps between states in terms of percentage of the population with higher education credentials and the average level of education attained. Washington needs to provide overarching policy direction for states to pursue lifelong learning as a way to address shortcomings in adult workers’ education/training, particularly if the aim is for this type of program to become as ubiquitous as other employee benefits.

Vera Matthews 2013/02/02 at 7:22 pm

Lifelong Learning Accounts are nothing new; Europe has had variations of this program since the introduction of the Lisbon strategy in the early 2000s. The difference between the European models and the American one is a greater focus on government funding and involvement by the former. However, it might be worthwhile to look to some of the countries’ examples of Lifelong Learning Accounts in action. For example, one mechanism that Austria has implemented is that individuals who open Lifelong Learning Accounts automatically qualify for low-interest loans. Could that be implemented in the United States? It would be interesting to hear more about European models as we’re developing our own

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