Apr 16, 2014 | By Carolyn Burstein, NETWORK Communications Fellow
Today (April 16, 2014), President Obama and Vice-President Biden announced a new initiative that will help close the “skills gap” that prevents people from getting access to high-paying jobs. The announcement, relating to two separate efforts, was made at a community college in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
The first and larger of the two initiatives is a $500 million competitive grant program to community colleges, designed to encourage them to work closely with employers and industry to create training programs that are geared toward the jobs needed by employers. Besides evaluating these programs on the basis of their success in placing graduates in paid work, this competitive grant effort will also place a priority on partnerships with national entities, such as industry associations. The national group must pledge to help design the job training program so that the credential acquired at its conclusion would be recognized and accepted across a particular industry, giving the job seeker additional leverage in gaining employment nationwide.
The Labor Department is also making an additional $100 million available to expand apprenticeship programs. Even though evaluations of apprenticeship programs in the U.S. indicate that 90% of apprentices end up in jobs that pay more than $50,000 a year, the U.S. has never had more than a few such programs. Germany has 15 times as many programs as this country even though its population is much smaller. Apprenticeship programs are credited for that country’s low youth unemployment rates.
The intent of the apprenticeship program is to grow existing successful programs and to create new programs in high-growth fields, such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing.
This two-segment job training effort is part of the administration’s focus on micro-initiatives the White House can take through executive action without the involvement of an often-gridlocked legislative process. The $600 million required for the two initiatives has already been appropriated – the $500 million is from the Trade Adjustment Assistance and Community College and Career Training grant program, and $100 million is from Dept. of Labor’s funds generated from fees employers pay the government when they hire skilled immigrants on H1-B visas.
Compared to the $18 billion currently funding all federal job training programs, which for many years have been roundly criticized as duplicative, un-evaluated, misguided, and generally, unhelpful to job seekers (not all true), $600 million is a mere drop-in-the-bucket and will not lead to a complete overhaul of these programs. However, the intent of the administration is to conceptually rethink the nature of job training in the U.S. and the way that businesses relate to aspects of the school system. In its thinking, the White House believes i