fresh voices from the front lines of change







Even with an unemployment rate of 9.2%, the United States is unlikely be able to fill a projected 2.8 million science, technology, economy and manufacturing jobs that will be created by 2018. The problem? There will not be enough qualified people.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis told a Senate hearing Tuesday that her goal is to enable American workers to get the skills necessary to “support a lifetime career path of productive, middle-class jobs.”

At the third hearing the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has held to explore the state of the American middle class, Solis reiterated in her testimony the importance of job training programs, particularly to the green energy, advanced manufacturing and health care industries.

Workers in today’s job market need to have the flexibility and adaptability to shifts in skills that today’s competitive job market requires. In order to prepare American workers for the “promising industries of the 21st century economy,” as Solis puts it, we need to rethink our job training programs. Most Americans will no longer participate in the world of education and jobs sequentially, as in studying first and then working. Americans need life-long learning opportunities to “support moves within and between emerging industries.” 

Solis noted the Department of Labor’s collaboration with the nation’s community colleges to engage with the industrial and manufacturing industries to ensure that American students earn industry-accepted credentials. Community colleges offer American workers and students career pathways through “…education and training that is aligned with the skill needs of the employers, utilizes curriculum and instructional strategies, leads to the attainment of industry-recognized degree or credentials, and includes supportive services such as childcare and transportation services, and job placement services.”

House Republicans however, are opting to cut these key programs. In April, they passed a budget that slashed nationwide job training programs. Their budgetary actions are at odds with the Republican promise to bring down the unemployment rate.

The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 was passed with bipartisan support, but in one swift partisan move Republicans would do away with federal grants to states to operate more than 3,000 job centers nationwide, which served more than 8 million people in 2010.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that between 2008 and 2018, science, technology, economy and manufacturing (STEM) jobs in the U.S. will grow by 17 percent, compared to an estimated growth rate of just under 10 percent for non-STEM jobs. Who do House Republicans think will fill the increasing number of STEM jobs when fewer than one-third of eighth graders in the U.S. are considered proficient in math and science? If nobody is prepared to fill the STEM jobs we have open today, who will fill them in the future?

Key conservative leaders would rather see the federal government turn its back to the problem. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has suggested that the government “eliminate federal job training programs.” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said on MSNBC that he could “whack [job training] from this budget and [have] nobody feel it.”

Fortunately, the job-killing budget bill passed by House Republicans in April was rejected by the Senate. Members of Congress who allow cuts to essential programs that help build a competitive American workforce and economy should be held to task for their irresponsible decisions. American workers should not let the members of Congress who voted for the job-killing budget forget their betrayal of the American worker.

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