Quite a week for skills training

In last night’s economy-focused State of the Union address, President Obama devoted a significant amount of time to skills training and helping people get back to work.

Pointing out the skills gap we’ve been talking about through the Skills2Compete MA campaign (and similar campaigns acros the country), President Obama encouraged investment in more public-private partnerships, particularly mentioning partnerships between community colleges and employers that “teach people skills local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.”

Though his speech mentioned places “where this is happening, like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville,” he might also have mentioned Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, and the Cape, among other communities in Massachusetts.

The MA Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund has helped create over 30 such partnerships between community colleges, community-based organizations, labor and employers. The partnerships provided training and education services in a range of industries including health care, manufacturing, clean energy, life sciences, trades, financial services and hospitality.  Altogether 229 businesses and 46 training and education organizations were part of regional partnerships.  6,751 individuals were trained.  5,395 experienced a positive employment outcome.

Through the SkillWorks initiative, over the last 3 years, more than 1,100 individual in the greater Boston area have received training.  Training is still ongoing, but participants have already experienced significant gains, including nearly 300 who have found new jobs; more than 300 who have experienced wage increases, and nearly 500 who have earned industry-recognized credentials.

Participating businesses in both initiatives have documented significant improvements in  productivity, profitability, increased sales, employee retention, diversity, safety, communication skills and customer service as a result of these investments.

We know skills training isn’t THE answer to put everyone back to work.  To do that, we need to increase consumer demand and create new jobs through the other investments the President discussed, including in infrastructure, manufacturing and other sectors of the economy.

However, skills training is clearly part of the answer, and we need to both increase access to training and improve the quality and coordination of that training.

As we await the Governor Patrick’s budget later today and further details of President Obama’s plan to increase, improve and streamline training, we hope to see support for initiatives like the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, a major component of the Middle-Skills Solutions Act that our coalition has been advocating for, and the partnerships they foster.

Read the full text of the State of the Union address.

A relevant excerpt follows:

I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can’t find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that – openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work.

It’s inexcusable. And we know how to fix it.

Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic. Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College. The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training. It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant.

I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did. Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My Administration has already lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers – places that teach people skills local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

And I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help they need. It is time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.

These reforms will help people get jobs that are open today.


Author: SkillWorks

SkillWorks is a nationally recognized workforce funder collaborative, launched by the Boston Foundation in 2003 to improve workforce development in Boston and across Massachusetts. SkillWorks brings together philanthropy, government, community organizations and employers to address the twin goals of: 1) Helping low-skill, low-income individuals attain family-supporting jobs; and 2) Helping employers find and retain skilled employees.

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