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Opinion Editorial -- The Huffington Post -- Collaborating to Produce an American Workforce with In-Demand Skills

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OPINION EDITORIAL
Friday, April 18, 2014
CONTACT OFFICE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
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Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker
Opinion Editorial, The Huffington Post
"Making Manufacturing Cool"

Since taking office about 10 months ago, I have spoken to more than 1,000 CEOs and business leaders around the country. One of the top concerns they have shared is the challenge businesses face in finding the right workers to fill available jobs.

With technology accelerating the pace of change in our economy, our long-term competitiveness is tied to our ability to produce a workforce with in-demand skills. To successfully address this challenge, we at the Department of Commerce are focused on breaking down silos between businesses, training organizations, academic institutions and the public sector to create a collaborative ecosystem that supports the needs of our workers and businesses.

As a business leader for 27 years, I know firsthand that true collaboration is part of the long-term solution.

On Wednesday, I joined President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where they announced new federal investments to support efforts to train workers with the skills needed for the positions employers want to fill now and in the future. These investments will focus on partnering local businesses with community colleges, which are one of the best resources we have to train workers for 21st century jobs.

Another objective of these investments is to expand hands-on apprenticeships, which provide one of the clearest paths to good middle class jobs. In fact, 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, and the average starting wage for apprenticeship graduates is more than $50,000.

How else can we spur collaboration? American business today spends $400 billion training their own workers, but we want to incentivize them to take that training and make it available to others in the community - through partnerships with community colleges, through increasing the number of workforce intermediaries, through expanding the number of apprenticeship programs, and through creating and emphasizing the value of industry-recognized, portable, stackable credentials. By doing so, businesses can multiply the impact of the federal government's $18 billion investments in training.

During my time in the private sector, this issue became very personal for me. Before I became Commerce Secretary, I helped launch Skills for America's Future, which led to Skills for Chicagoland's Future. Both work directly with employers to develop ways to better equip workers with the skills they need for in-demand jobs. Aligning employers with job-training initiatives is something I have worked on for years, and I am proud that we have made skills training a top priority for our Department for the very first time.

With our direct line to businesses all over the country, the Department of Commerce is particularly well-positioned to lead in this area. As we further our efforts, we are encouraged by the number of employers, unions, and foundations that are joining our efforts with commitments to support job-driven training.

President Obama stated in his State of the Union address that this is the year of action, and I look forward to continuing to work with the President, Vice President Biden and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez as we continue to develop training mechanisms that prepare the talented and innovative workforce that is essential to America's continued economic growth and recovery.