Industries Develop in ‘Clusters’; Workforce Training Should Align

President Obama talked persuasively about the importance of workforce training during the White House’s “Winning the Future” forum in Cleveland Tuesday. His remarks came in response to a comment from Roy in Temecula, Calif., which we take to be Roy Paulson of Paulson Manufacturing, a manufacturer of safety equipment and a member of the National Association of Manufacturers’ Board of Directors. From the transcript:

MS. [Sarah] BERNARD: We had a lot of questions come in about — or comments and thoughts about preparing the next-generation workforce. Roy in Temeculah, California, noted: The economy develops in pockets and clusters. Why don’t we match this with our workforce development for the best results? We all know that people have many different jobs over their lifetime, and we need to retrain where and when it’s needed — keep it simple, buy it quickly, keep it local. The local aspect allows easy access for the people that need the training, and it’s tailored to the local environment and conditions.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the answer is in the question. I think that question is spot on. What you find as you travel around the country is that there’s certain regions that are starting to gain expertise in biotech, or they’re starting to gain expertise in advanced battery manufacturing, or they’re starting to gain expertise in a particular industry which requires a particular skill set. And if we can get businesses to partner with local community colleges or local universities and have them help to design the training process for the jobs that already exist, it’s a win-win.

For the businesses, it means that all their workforce training costs are absorbed somewhere else, which is obviously good for their bottom line.

For the students, what it means is that if you actually go through this program, you know that there’s going to be a job at the end of the day because the employers have actually helped to design the program. And so Skills for America’s Future is a program that we’ve been trying to implement that gets those partnerships between businesses and colleges and universities.

The local community college is a particular asset that has been under-utilized over the last several years that we want to really ramp up. The Department of Labor is also working with state and local governments so that they can design and tailor their own particular approach to training.
But the key here is to recognize that for the vast majority of folks out there, you’re not going to have one job or two jobs during the course of your career; you’re probably going to have six or seven different jobs. And even mid-career, you may have to start retraining.

And what we want to make sure of is, A, that there’s financing out there for you to retrain, which is why we increased access to student loans, eliminating some of the unwarranted subsidies that went to banks so that we could expand the Pell Grant Program; make sure that starting in 2014, if you take out student loans, that in repaying them you’ll never have to pay more than 10 percent of your income. So we’ve expanded access to universities and colleges.

But we also want to make sure that you’re being trained for the right stuff. And that’s particularly true for your second career, for older students. They’ve got a family, they may be working — they can’t afford to go to school, take out loans, and then it turns out that what they were getting trained for didn’t provide an immediate job opportunity.

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