President Barack Obama said business partnerships with the nation’s community colleges can help prepare workers for future manufacturing jobs, lowering the nation’s unemployment rate while spurring economic growth.
“Lighting a spark, that’s what community colleges can do,” Obama said today at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, a Washington suburb. “We’ve got to light more sparks all across America.”
The president is promoting a $2 billion government program that tailors community college classes to local manufacturing job-skill needs that he said will train about 500,000 young workers over the next five years in 30 states.
The administration says job training can be one tool to reduce the unemployment rate, which rose to 9.1 percent in May, up 0.1 percent. Only 1.8 million of the more than 8.7 million jobs lost since January 2008 have been regained as the U.S. has recovered from the worst recession since the 1930s.
“The goal is to make sure your degree helps you to get a promotion, or a raise or a job, and that’s especially important right now,” Obama told students and officials at the college. “We’ve got to do everything we can, everything in our power, to strengthen and build the middle class.”
Before his remarks, Obama toured a diagnostics repair center for hybrid vehicles, one of two such facilities for electric cars in the U.S.
Defending Budget Priorities
With Republicans in Congress demanding budget cuts, Obama defended government spending on education and clean energy, even with the nation’s deficit forecast to exceed $1 trillion this fiscal year and next.
“We could decide, in solving our fiscal problems, that we can’t afford to make any of these investments,” he said. “I don’t accept that future for the United States of America.”
Vice President Joe Biden is leading negotiations with congressional Republicans on a $1 trillion deficit-reduction package to be considered along with raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by the beginning of August.
Administration officials said in a briefing yesterday that two new elements will add impact to the job training program originally announced Oct. 4, 2010, with the backing of the Aspen Institute and a unit of the National Association of Manufacturers.
The first is the addition of more companies, groups or foundations offering support by having executives join a board overseeing the program. They include Greg Brown, chairman and chief executive of Motorola Solutions Inc.; Bill Green, chairman of Accenture Inc., and Penny Pritzker, a supporter of Obama and chairman and chief executive of Pritzker Realty Group of Chicago.
Brad Keywell, co-founder and director of Groupon Inc., is joining the board along with Nick Pinchuk, chief executive of tool company Snap-on Inc., and David Zaslav, chief executive of Discovery Communications.
Ellen Alberding, president of the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, and Walter Bumphus, president and chief executive of the American Association of Community Colleges also are joining the board, the White House said in a statement.
“We’re going to have to have all hands on deck,” Obama said.
The second effort bolstering the program is agreement by companies and manufactures to develop a “manufacturing skills certification program,” a kind of universally accepted credential that affirms that a graduate has a specific set of skills.
The goal is to win adoption of the certification program at 200 community colleges, according to the White House.
U.S. manufacturing employs about 11 million Americans, the White House said in a fact sheet.
“We haven’t been as attentive to the manufacturing sector as we should have,” Ron Bloom, White House adviser on manufacturing policy, said in a briefing for reporters. While the nation needs scientists and engineers, “we also need skilled blue-collar workers” who “make things with their hands.”
“The skills of your workforce are one of the central pillars of a competitive company,” Bloom said.
When companies relocate, 61 percent say the decision is influenced by the availability of a skilled workforce, Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters.
“Listen, that old job is not coming back. Even if the plant re-opens, the skills that were required before are not what the skills are now,” John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities, said June 6.
“On the labor supply side, what we need are the skills, the skills that match the 21st-century workforce,” Silvia said on WBBR Radio’s “Midday Surveillance” program hosted by Tom Keene.