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2015 February 4 - 05:33 am

President’s Dual Approach To Job Training Merits Serious Attention

President Obama's Proposal Would Allow Qualified Students to Attend Community Colleges Tuition Free for Two Years

During his State of the Union address, President Obama again mentioned “America’s College Promise,” his proposal that would allow qualified students to attend community colleges tuition free for two years and then transfer to four-year schools in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. The proposal, which I support, has garnered a lot of attention since President Obama announced it on Jan. 9.

However, less has been said about the “American Technical Training Fund,” a companion proposal which President Obama announced that same day. Under this proposal, the federal government would fund the startup of 100 centers at community colleges that would expand training to students in growing fields such as energy and advanced manufacturing — fields with significant numbers of family-sustaining-wage jobs that local employers are trying to fill. The fund would build on an earlier Obama initiative, the Trade Adjustment Assistance and Community College and Career Training grant program, which has provided $2 billion over the past several years to the nation’s community colleges to design training programs that prepare workers for jobs in fields such as advanced manufacturing, health care and energy.

Taken together, President Obama’s two new proposals provide a two-pronged approach that is important because not every student wants or needs a bachelor’s degree and because U.S. manufacturing is making a comeback and many manufacturers in this region tell us they cannot find enough skilled workers. Local manufacturers tell us on a regular basis that they could hire right now for second and third-shift openings in advanced manufacturing, but there are not enough skilled workers to fill the positions.

One reason for the increased demand for skilled manufacturing workers is because many workers are aging out of the workforce and retiring. Another reason is because the U.S. economy has improved and customer demand has increased. In addition, many companies now find it more cost effective to manufacture in America. A 2013 survey by the Manufacturing Alliance of Chester and Delaware Counties in our region found 83 percent cited finding technically skilled workers as their number one recruiting and hiring challenge.

Community colleges, like Delaware County Community College, are working to meet the needs of these manufacturers. Our college has a state-of-the-art Advanced Technology Center where we offer associate degrees, as well as short-term certificates, hands-on training programs in advanced manufacturing, welding, carpentry, electrical, and plumbing. The president’s American Technical Training Fund would help us further build our capacity to train the number of workers that will be needed as the U.S. economy continues to rebound.

We are not alone in our desire to train tomorrow’s workforce. Recently, JPMorgan Chase & Co., as part of its national $250 million “New Skills at Work” initiative, provided a $50,000 grant to the college to provide scholarships to low-income residents interested in training for jobs in advanced manufacturing.

Whether President Obama’s proposals make it through Congress, he has increased the dialogue about issues that are vitally important to America’s future: college affordability; job training; meeting the skilled workforce needs of U.S. manufacturers; and American competitiveness in the global marketplace. For this I am thankful. Now, I hope this dialogue will lead to substantive changes that will benefit our students and the country.

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