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Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Inaugural Meeting


Thank you, Ivanka, again, for your leadership on this initiative.

It is an honor to serve with you on the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board and the National Council for the American Worker, and to witness your dedication to rebuilding the U.S. economy and creating good jobs for millions of workers.

Ivanka and I, and more importantly, American workers and job seekers, need the help and dedication of all of you — the new members of the Workforce Advisory Board. Thank you for making this civic contribution to the wellbeing of our country a priority in your busy lives.

We were thrilled by the number and quality of candidates who were nominated for this board, and it was not easy making selections. Nonetheless, we are extremely gratified by your commitment to addressing the most important issue confronting many businesses throughout the nation. And, if you haven’t already noticed, there has been universal praise for your selection to this Advisory Board.

We all share in this excitement.

You bring a true diversity of insightful perspectives to the Board. You represent industries and institutions that span multiple facets of our economy.

We all know that a college degree is not the only way — or necessarily the best means — of achieving a successful start to a fulfilling career.

Some of you represent institutions that work with urban, rural, and tribal youth, with an eye on preparing and connecting them with their first jobs. You bring to the Board an important academic perspective to ensure that our thinking is grounded in the latest research. But, as Ivanka so well stated, it is imperative that our country move from studies and pilot projects to widespread, national adoption of the best programs and best practices.

We all know that the status quo is not remotely good enough. Simply stated: Our system of workforce education and training is not providing American businesses with the skilled individuals we all need to help us. The current training and educational system is also inappropriate for older American workers who are not equipped for the skilled, high-paying jobs that remain vacant in every sector of our growing economy.

As Ivanka outlined, President Trump has called on us to implement such a strategy and begin addressing the 7.3 million American jobs that employers are looking to fill immediately, an increase of more than 1.6 million vacancies from just a year earlier. Not having enough qualified workers for these open jobs could stifle economic growth, and set our country back for decades to come.

We are at an inflection point.

There are millions of young people who are poised to enter the labor market, so long as they have the right training, and the right opportunity. We owe them clear guidance on the right paths to the right career. President Trump has challenged and charged Ivanka, myself, and other senior leaders across the Administration, to create a strategy to radically improve the prospects of the American workforce.

The Executive Order that has brought us here together emphasizes a couple of major principles for the national workforce strategy we are developing. One is that we emphasize the value of all pathways to filling job openings for skilled workers. A community-college degree, an apprenticeship, an industry certification — or all of the above — are all valid paths to a first job or to a new career.

Both industry and organized labor already invest substantially in American workers — frequently in partnership with an educational institution from high school on up. Bolstering those investments is essential to our national workforce strategy.

To get started, we need a couple of specific deliverables within the next 12 to 16 months. Again, we are most honored that you are engaged in this endeavor, and I look forward to our deliberations. We cannot develop a real national strategy without your input and your recommendations.

With that introduction, let’s move to the core part of today’s meeting — a dialogue on the goals of the Advisory Board. Ivanka and I have identified four areas where we would like the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board to work. Each of these goals corresponds to a working group.

In the days immediately after this meeting, we will formally constitute the working groups. Each will have direct support from the White House, and the staff at the Commerce Department. Ivanka and I seek specific recommendations by the end of this year from each working group. At that time, we all will decide whether to continue the same working groups into 2020 or establish new ones, depending on what is accomplished and what is needed.

Ivanka, Chris Liddell, and I will be facilitating the discussion now on each of the four goals. We will present the fundamental problem we would like each working group to address and suggest potential areas where you could develop actionable recommendations.

We seek your input today on the actions we need to take as a nation to address these issues, including the activities that your organizations are already taking to mitigate them.

These do not need to be restricted to federal policy.

Solving today’s skills crisis involves joint efforts that will span business, education, labor, and government.  We seek your guidance on how to build and sustain these partnerships across the country.

The four goal areas are:

  • First: Develop a Campaign to Promote Multiple Pathways to Career Success;
  • Second: Increase Data Transparency to Better Match American Workers with American Open Jobs;
  • Third: Modernize Candidate Recruitment and Training Practices;
  • And, fourth: Measure and Encourage Employer-led Training and Reskilling Investments.

Between today and July 2020, this Advisory Board will develop recommendations under the four major goals that we discussed. The recommendations will go to the National Council for the American Worker, which Ivanka and I co-chair with Secretary Acosta and Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan. Your recommendations will guide our work as we implement a comprehensive national workforce strategy.

Although the term of this Advisory Board ends in July 2020, the urgency of the skills crisis calls for immediate action. Today’s discussion has uncovered several areas where we can develop recommendations quickly.

To that end, my staff and Ivanka’s will formalize the four working groups by early next week, and we will be seeking co-chairs for each group as well. We expect that each working group will meet monthly either in person, or virtually.

As a full board, we will meet again three more times this year: on June 18; on September 18; and on December 13.

Given this schedule and knowing how quickly time passes, Ivanka and I hope to see a set of recommendations by the end of this year for the goals discussed today. Ivanka’s staff and my staff are committed to providing all of the support you require to meet this goal.

Thank you, again, for your dedication to civic engagement. I look forward to working with all of you.