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Biden: Job Training Key for a Strong Middle-Class

06/10/2014

U.S. News & World Report. June 9, 2014.

U.S. policymakers, educators and business leaders are “at the cusp of tremendous opportunity” when it comes to training workers with the necessary skills employers need, Vice President Joe Biden said at an event Wednesday aimed at finding solutions for more effective job training.

A skilled workforce can preserve the middle-class through promising more stable employment, which can in turn help keep the world’s largest economy competitive.

“When the middle-class does well, everybody else does well,” Biden said at the event in the nation’s capital sponsored by think tank Third Way. “[The middle-class is] more like a value set. It's the sinew that stitches together the social fabric of the country. It's the reason we've been so stable politically, economically, as well as emotionally stable as a nation, for so long.” 

“I’m not sure how we sustain a country with the same kind of equilibrium without a vibrant middle-class. I'm not saying it's over; I'm saying it's a different shape than before,” Biden said.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama charged Biden with leading a reform of nationwide job-training programs. Wednesday’s event gathered 20 industry experts, including community college administrators, business leaders and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to examine innovations for workforce development.

The panel will report back to Biden with its findings.

“You've got to know how to know,” Biden said. He estimated that by the end of the decade, 60 percent of jobs will require some kind of education beyond a high school degree.

Perez outlined five goals for the Department of Labor’s job-training initiatives: Ensure it’s easier for businesses to find skilled labor; make sure people get trained with the desired skills; spur innovation in training techniques; improve measurements to make sure programs work; and foster apprenticeship programs in growing fields such as health care and information technology.

"We are spending a lot of time in the area of apprenticeship,” Perez said. “I really do believe there's a bright future in America for people who work with their hands.”

In April, the Obama administration announced a number of executive directives aimed at supporting workforce training, including a $500 million job-training grant competition that will partner businesses with community colleges and $100 million in grant money to increase access to apprenticeships.

Steve VanAusdle, president of Walla Walla Community College in Washington state and a member of the advisory panel, called community colleges a “key linchpin” in expanding job-training opportunities.

“We've got the kind of information now to align our programs with business and industry needs,” he said. “The community college system in the U.S. has made a commitment to this very issue we're talking about today.”