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Opinion Editorial - The Baltimore Sun - "Giving Americans the Skills to Succeed"

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OPINION EDITORIAL
Thursday, September 12, 2013
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Secretary Penny Pritzker and Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez
Opinion Editorial, The Baltimore Sun
"Giving Americans the Skills to Succeed"

As two of the newest members of President Barack Obama's cabinet, we've both spent the past few months lending a fresh set of eyes and ears to the opportunities and challenges facing workers and American businesses. One concern facing both communities that requires our full attention and our joint efforts is making sure that every American has the skills needed to succeed in the workforce.

This week we visited Anne Arundel Community College, where we were joined by Rep. Steny Hoyer to hear from local business, education, labor and government leaders about the importance of skills training as both a workforce development and an economic development imperative.

In 2011, Anne Arundel Community College received a $19.7 million grant from the Labor Department to lead the National STEM Consortium, which is made up of 10 community colleges in nine states and focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. Together, they're working with employers, labor unions and industry groups to develop certificate programs designed to train workers for mid-skill technical careers that have a high volume of openings in a particular region. Over the next decade, more than half of the new jobs created will be "middle-skills" jobs, meaning they require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree.

For Army veteran and current AACC student Gary Pollard, the National STEM Consortium has meant a second shot at serving his country — this time as a trained cyber security analyst ready to take one of the 15,000 related job openings in Maryland alone. The National STEM Consortium is just one example of the type of partnership that can be replicated around the country as we find ways to ensure American workers like Gary have the skills employers are looking for when they want to hire.

Because a skilled workforce directly impacts our ability to keep the economy growing and businesses strong, we need employers to be actively involved in skills development. Locally, businesses have to be clear about their needs and help drive training by playing a role in the development of curriculum and credentialing programs, forming partnerships with educational institutions and government at all levels — and in some cases, funding new training facilities. Educational providers, nonprofits, labor organizations and others have to craft ways to meet those needs. When all of these entities work together, one result is a workforce that can quickly adapt to meet the needs of employers looking to thrive in the global economy. Another result? A thriving middle class where anyone, no matter their background, has a chance to climb the ladder of opportunity.

Our discussion at AACC focused on a lot of what works, but we also heard from a number of voices about what we can all do better. At the local level, Maryland has had tremendous success bringing key parties — including government, business, nonprofit, labor, high school, technical school, community college and university leaders — to meet the state's employment and training goals. We heard about the need for additional paid internship opportunities and better matchmaking between students and employers to help those just entering the workforce get a feel for careers they may not have thought about before. We also heard about the importance of working together to change the misperception of technical careers, so that more students see specialized skills training as a pathway to success as they finish high school and look for what's next. And we heard about the need to create a training ecosystem that is not only aligned with employers' needs but is also aligned with the realities of modern life and modern students.

Partnerships like the ones in place at Anne Arundel Community College are succeeding all around the country, and we should continue to replicate them to give our workforce the skills to succeed. That's good for everyone's bottom line.