Senators Rosen, Hyde-Smith, Kelly and Reps. Houlahan, Baird Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral STEM RESTART Act to Support Workers Re-Entering or Transitioning to STEM Jobs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, alongside Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ), announced their introduction of the STEM Restoring Employment Skills through Targeted Assistance, Re-entry, and Training (RESTART) Act. This bipartisan legislation would provide funding to small and medium-sized STEM businesses to offer robust, paid, mid-career internships, known as “returnships,” for mid-career workers seeking to return or transition into the STEM workforce. Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Jim Baird (R-IN) have also introduced identical companion bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 “As a former computer programmer, I understand firsthand the value of a STEM education and how it can open doors for successful careers,” said Senator Rosen. “That’s why I’m working to expand opportunities for our workforce in Nevada to enter the STEM careers of the future and help our businesses fill technical positions with qualified workers. I’m re-introducing this bipartisan legislation to provide the professional development and support our workers need to transition back to work in the STEM industry, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, or enter a good-paying STEM field for the first time. I will continue working in Congress to support Nevada’s workforce and small business community during this economic crisis and beyond.”

 “The pandemic and its ill effects on the American workforce increase the need for the STEM RESTART Act. It is a bipartisan plan to energize small and medium-sized businesses to help talented people with STEM skills, especially women, return to the workforce,” said Senator Hyde-Smith. “I believe our plan should be part of the equation as we work to build a stronger post-pandemic economy.”

 “As we work to rebuild and reinvent Arizona’s economy, the bipartisan STEM RESTART Act will create more pathways for Arizonans to get the skills needed to re-enter STEM industries, with a focus on recruiting and training communities underrepresented in STEM fields,” said Senator Kelly.

 “Investing in our STEM workforce is a surefire way to create jobs,” said Congresswoman Houlahan. “As a former engineer in the Air Force, I know firsthand the opportunities a quality STEM education provides – these are good paying jobs that need filling now. The demand will continue to grow as we invest in Pennsylvania’s infrastructure and rebuild this economy after a devastating year. This bill is bipartisan and bicameral because it’s a no-brainer – businesses want skilled workers, and workers want to learn skills. I’m proud to join my colleagues on an effort that will help working families across our Commonwealth.”

“To grow and diversify our economy, we need workers who are trained with in-demand skills, especially in the growing STEM industry sectors,” said Mary Beth Sewald, President and CEO of the Vegas Chamber. “The STEM Restart Act would be a tremendous resource to connect newly trained professionals in STEM fields with an opportunity to gain invaluable work experiences to help them build new and sustainable careers. The Vegas Chamber applauds Senator Rosen’s dedication to worker retraining with the introduction of this meaningful piece of legislation.”

“We strongly support Senator Rosen’s proposal to fund the STEM RESTART Act. It would offer opportunities for our small and medium size members to bring much-needed workers into their businesses with the training and skills needed to address 21st century jobs,” said Ann Silver, CEO of the Reno+Sparks Chamber of Commerce. “Returning mid-career workers to employment is essential for our economy to survive and for these individuals to regain their foothold on the economic ladder of self-sufficiency.”

“Senator Rosen has been a leader in workforce and economic development,” said Scott Muelrath, President/CEO of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce. “This bipartisan bill is pivotal in our fast-changing economy and will provide greater opportunities for Nevada workers and our community to be positioned for success in the economy of the 21st century.”

“As an organization focused on empowering Nevada’s Latino workforce with the tools needed to succeed, we couldn’t be prouder to support Senator Rosen’s bipartisan STEM RESTART Act,” said Peter Guzman, President of the Latin Chamber of Commerce. “This bill addresses the real need to provide support to workers looking to enter the STEM workforce for the first time, or re-entering again after a break in their career, and will greatly benefit the Las Vegas community. We applaud Senator Rosen for her leadership in this space and for introducing this important piece of legislation.”

“As a Civil Engineering graduate myself who wants to see other individuals from historically underrepresented groups get STEM employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, I applaud and welcome Senator Rosen’s introduction of this bipartisan STEM Restart Act legislation,” said Ken Evans, President of the Urban Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas. “Furthermore, as our Nevada economy recovers and diversifies to become more resilient, our small, diverse businesses at the Urban Chamber will be excited to provide several of the “Returnships” and similar STEM workforce development opportunities mentioned in this legislation.”

“We at the Asian Chamber of Commerce are deeply committed to giving our minority small business owners and workforce the help and guidance they seek to grow and succeed,” said Sonny Vinuya, President of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce. “We are proud to wholeheartedly support Senator Rosen’s STEM Restart bill to provide meaningful resources for our workers and small business community to succeed in the industries of the future.”

“NSHE strongly supports the introduction of the STEM RESTART Act and we commend Senator Rosen for her bipartisan leadership in introducing this important legislation,” said Melody Rose, Chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE). “NSHE applauds the bill’s intent to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM industries to help bring in the best talent and to recognize new ideas brought in by diverse perspectives.”

“Strong universities are essential to economic recovery and sustainability, and it’s critical that we create and support programs that train traditional and non-traditional learners for careers in core and emerging STEM industries,” said Keith E. Whitfield, President of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). “This legislation, introduced by Senator Rosen, will assist those looking to make a mid-career transition into STEM fields and provide them with training opportunities to develop their skills.”

“Senator Rosen has always been a leader in workforce and economic development,” said Bart Patterson, President of Nevada State College (NSC). “We applaud her introduction of the bipartisan STEM RESTART Act that supports individuals who re-enter or transition into the STEM workforce, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. This bill will provide our students interested in STEM careers with the resources they need to enter the industries poised to lead our economy into the 21st century and ensure economic resiliency for our workforce and communities.”

“The College of Southern Nevada has long promoted science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in our state,” said Dr. Federico Zaragoza, President for the College of Southern Nevada (CSN). “STEM careers are in high demand, and Senator Rosen’s STEM RESTART Act supports members of Nevada’s workforce by providing them access to internships in these fields. We look forward to working with Senator Rosen to better develop our state’s STEM workforce.”

“This past year the American workforce has taken a disastrous hit, and the small business community, especially traditionally underrepresented communities, have suffered as a result,” said John Stanford and Rhett Buttle, Co-Executive Directors of the Small Business Roundtable (SBR). “Small Business Roundtable applauds Senator Jacky Rosen for her introduction of the STEM RESTART Act. This legislation will encourage ‘returnships’ to bridge the skills and hiring gap in STEM fields, provide funding to organizations within STEM fields, enforce worker protections, and will provide grants to local businesses. If enacted, we look forward to seeing increased representation nationwide among women and traditionally underrepresented groups in the STEM field.”

“The COVID pandemic has caused significant unemployment, especially among minority groups and women. Incubate supports the STEM RESTART Act, which will aim to bridge the employment gap among underrepresented populations in STEM, provide direct funding to organizations within STEM fields, and will prioritize ‘returnships’ to close the skills and hiring gaps,” said Ashlyn Roberts, Coalition Manager of Incubate. “If enacted, this legislation would increase opportunities for women and minority groups in the industry, create a stronger workforce, and ultimately facilitate more medical breakthroughs in the future.”

“This bill will provide much needed support for getting more Americans back into the STEM workforce at a time when our country is poised to make unprecedented investments in the foundations of our shared prosperity – infrastructure, manufacturing, science and technology, and education,” said James Brown, Executive Director, STEM Education Coalition. “The RESTART Act is a really innovative concept whose time has definitely come.” 

“We are so pleased that Senators Rosen and Hyde-Smith are reintroducing the STEM RESTART Act,” said Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO of “ is committed to a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for whom they build it. Such a future requires a technology workforce that intentionally includes women and supports their professional and personal aspirations. Many women find it necessary to pause their careers for myriad reasons—growing families, aging parents, assisting family businesses, or—a pandemic. This proposal would foster the development of re-entry programs that ease a transition back into technical positions and fields. We’re grateful for the STEM RESTART Act and hope it can be part of the conversation on Capitol Hill about how to help the country’s economy recover and how to get STEM workers back to work.”

“The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is so pleased to see the STEM RESTART Act reintroduced this year. In fact, as the country recovers from the economic fallout of the pandemic—fallout that has affected women in STEM careers disproportionately—this bill is needed more than ever,” said Karen Horting, Executive Director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). “Before the pandemic, more than ninety percent of women STEM professionals who had to leave the workforce wished to return, but only forty percent were able to do so. There’s no doubt those figures have only worsened. SWE and its 41,000 members applaud Senators Rosen and Hyde-Smith for this bill, which recognizes the successes of existing “returnship” programs and sees the promise of them as the country’s workforce needs all the STEM talent it can get. Companies that participate in similar initiatives ultimately hire eighty-six percent of participants. That result closes the STEM opportunity gap and creates quality jobs. Federal backing for such efforts, as proposed by the bill, will help small businesses looking for qualified talent to start similar programs. We should all do what we can to get women and the economy back to work. The country’s economic recovery needs initiatives like this one, and we look forward to supporting efforts to get this legislation to the president’s desk.”

“Microsoft believes opportunities to develop new digital skills are critically important. The STEM RESTART Act will support mid-career workers interested in returning or transitioning to the STEM workforce increasing access to in-demand skills and jobs. We applaud this bipartisan bicameral legislation and thank Senators Rosen, Hyde-Smith, and Kelly and Representatives Houlahan and Baird for their leadership,” said Fred Humphries, Corporate Vice President, U.S. Government Affairs, Microsoft.

BACKGROUND: Senators Rosen and Hyde-Smith first introduced the bipartisan STEM RESTART Act in September 2020.

According to the Center for American Progress, nearly one in four women take a break in their career, and in the past year, four times more women than men dropped out of the workforce due to the COVID pandemic. Research published by The Harvard Business Review says that while 93 percent of off-ramped women want to resume their careers, only 74 percent manage to get any kind of job at all, and just 40 percent successfully return to work full-time. A Pew study also found that 62 percent of Black STEM workers say they have faced discrimination in hiring or promotion at their jobs, compared to just 13 percent of White STEM workers.

Overall, women and men of all backgrounds have had to drop out of the workforce in record numbers over the course of the pandemic. As the economy begins to recover, many of these individuals will want to return to their jobs, and many more may want to transition mid-career into more lucrative and stable STEM fields.

The bipartisan STEM RESTART Act provides small and medium-size businesses with funding for robust, paid, mid-career internships, known as “returnships,” for workers looking to return to work or transition to a new STEM career, with priority for underrepresented populations and rural areas. Studies show that mid-career internships or “returnships” are an effective way to address the difficulties of former STEM employees seeking to return to work to in-demand industry sectors.

These programs provide a probationary period and opportunities to obtain mentorship, professional development, and support as the participants transition back to work and advance in their career. “Returnships” allow an employer to base a hiring decision on actual work instead of just interviews and references. Many larger and Fortune 500 companies provide mid-career internships for returning technical professionals as an effort to close the gender gap and skills gap. According to the Small Business Administration, small and medium enterprises employ over 31 percent of the industrial research workforce, yet are least likely to have returnships.

Specifically, the bipartisan STEM RESTART Act:

  • Provides Direct Funding for Organizations within Needed STEM Fields: Allocates $50 million per year in grant funding for small and medium-sized businesses to set up “returnships” for qualified talent within in-demand industries within the STEM workforce. 
  • Prioritizes Returnships for Underrepresented Populations to Close the Skills/Hiring Gap: Prioritizes funds for “returnships” for unemployed or underemployed persons who are also part of historically underrepresented groups in STEM, including women, Black and Latino persons, and individuals in rural communities.
  • Ensures Accountability: Requires any grant-funded “returnship” to last at least 10 weeks and include assurances of how the program will build upon returning workers’ skills. Requires the Secretary of Labor to track and report to Congress on the use of funding by grantees. Also sets parameters for who can apply for grant funds and limits initial funding to five years.
  • Includes Flexibility for Local Needs: Allows small and medium-sized businesses within in-demand industries – as determined by WIOA standards and State and local workforce development strategies – to apply for grant funds. Also allows grantees to collaborate with other providers, including universities and nonprofit organizations, to provide the best “returnship” experience.
  • Protects Returning Workers from Exploitation: Ensures that returning workers must be provided payment and benefits equivalent to a grantee’s existing non-entry level employees. Allows for grant funds to be used for benefits and incentives, such as childcare and necessary travel or training expenses.

The bipartisan STEM RESTART Act is endorsed by The Vegas Chamber, the Reno+Sparks Chamber of Commerce, the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, the Latin Chamber of Commerce, the Urban Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), Nevada State College (NSC), the College of Southern Nevada (CSN), the Small Business Roundtable (SBR), Incubate, the STEM Education Coalition,, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and Microsoft.