Labor Day: skills for a lifetime

By Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor Published:

As the Secretary of Labor, I have a unique opportunity to meet with employers around the country of all sizes and from an array of industries. So many of them tell me the same thing: they’re ready to grow their businesses and to hire more people.

But here’s the rub: too often, they can’t find workers who have the skills they need.

Meanwhile, although businesses have added 9.9 million jobs since February 2010, a lot of people are still hurting, unable to access the opportunities that will allow them to share in our national recovery. About a third of those who remain unemployed have been unemployed for six months or more.

So we have ready-to-work people looking for work. And we have ready-to-fill jobs that employers can’t fill. If we want to continue our economic recovery, grow our middle class and ensure a prosperous future, we’ve got to match them up.  

That’s at the heart of President Barack Obama’s opportunity agenda. And that’s why he recently signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) — a bipartisan bill that passed with little fanfare, but represents the first major reform of the nation’s workforce system since 1998. The reforms in the new law will make the nation’s workforce system, which serves more than 20 million people a year, better able to provide people with the skills they need to access ladders of opportunity. 

But that’s not all. Vice President Joe Biden recently released a report calling for stronger partnerships with employers, better access to information for job seekers and more effective training strategies.

 All of these efforts are based on the principle of job-driven training. We’re doing away with what I call “train and pray” — training people to be widget makers and praying that there’s a company hiring widget makers. We need to provide people with the skills needed for jobs that actually exist.

So what exactly does “job-driven training” look like? Here’s an example. The Kentucky Educational Development Corporation is developing a program to help high school students prepare for high-demand healthcare jobs. Through the ACHIEVE program, students will receive accelerated learning opportunities and hands-on training in health care occupations including health information technology. 

And perhaps the most important ingredient to making this program successful? The program builds strong partnerships between high schools and employers — like Baptist Health and KentuckyOne Health — to provide students with industry recognized credentials and certification.

In April, the KEDC was awarded a $5.5 million Youth CareerConnect grant from the Department of Labor to build on its efforts. This year, we’re putting more than a billion dollars on the street in grant funding to support programs like this one. Those resources are being deployed in a number of different ways — strengthening our community colleges, promoting apprenticeship and on-the-job training, investing in youth employment and more.

On Labor Day, we honor the contributions that hard-working men and women make every day to our nation’s strength and vitality. And we recommit ourselves to helping more people enjoy the dignity of work, helping them acquire the skills and access the opportunities to reach the American Dream.

Thomas E. Perez is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

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