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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America “Great Think: Workforce Readiness” Event


Thank you, Jim, for that kind introduction. It is my honor to be here with people like David Seaton; Carolyn Lee; Michael Bellaman; Karen Pittman; and, of course, with those who really matter most, the students who were just being quizzed so relentlessly by Jim. 

Jim, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America is fortunate to have such a nationwide prominent and respected person as you as its President and CEO. Your team continues to expand to reach and impact the organization, with 400 new facilities, and a 13-percent increase in facility utilization. Your “Great Futures 2025” program is guiding your organization to “champion opportunities for all young people in America.”

Thank you for all that you do, on behalf of the 4,300 Clubs, the almost 800,000 staff and volunteers, and the 4.3 million young people who are engaged in so many constructive activities.

Those are all big numbers.

They mean that you have a major influence on the nation’s youth, and that you play a pivotal role in motivating them to do well in school, pursue productive careers and, ultimately, become civically active as adults.

Your work with so many partners like Microsoft, ATT, Raytheon, and Toyota uniquely positions you to promote education and the training of our youth for the demanding jobs ahead. 

Our country needs you to be successful now more than ever since the founding of your first club for boys in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1906.

Today, there are more children and young adults who are simply more confused than ever before.

They are bombarded by too many choices, and too many distractions. Helping them achieve clarity of purpose — and to make good decisions — is our collective challenge. 

Now is the time for organizations such as yours to create partnerships with industry, government, labor, other non-profits, educators, and parents to provide the skills our children need to master.

The “soft” skills that you talked about today — such as work ethic, communication, time management, resilience, teamwork, respect, and confidence — are prerequisites to the hard skills required for getting a job. And, speaking from my own personal experience, financial skills are also essential.

We commend your “Money Matters: Make It Count” program led by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, as well as your other programs aimed at providing young people with the financial savvy they will need to navigate the complex systems of modern life.

Ivanka Trump and I were honored when Jim accepted our offer to join the President’s newly created America’s Workforce Policy Advisory Board. This 25-member federal advisory board includes leading CEOs, the governors of Indiana and Iowa, the mayor of Charlotte, and leaders from education, organized labor, and nonprofits, like B-G-C-A. Over the coming months Jim, you and your fellow board members will provide recommendations to create the country’s first national workforce strategy.

Today, there are 7.1 million vacant jobs in the United States. These could be filled immediately if there were enough qualified workers. And, for many companies, the inability to find workers is stifling their prospects for growth.

We are at an inflection point.

Millions of young Americans are poised to enter the labor market, but lack the right training for available opportunities. We owe them clear guidance on the skills they need to attain their first job.

Across all age groups, labor force participation — that is, the share of people who are working or actively looking for work — has been trending down for nearly two decades.

This is why your academic success programs like Career Launch, Project Learn, Tech Girls Rock, Summer Brain Gain, and DIY STEM, are so important.

We must strengthen the connections between education and work.

President Trump has charged Ivanka, myself, and others in the Administration, to create a strategy to align the American workforce with the jobs that are available today.

We all know that the four-year college degree is not the only way — or necessarily the best way — of achieving a successful career.

We must emphasize and demonstrate to youths, to parents, and to educators the value of all pathways to filling job openings for skilled workers. A community-college program, an apprenticeship, an industry certification — or all of the above — are valid means of achieving a good career path.

The Department of Labor is developing a new apprenticeship system that gives trade associations, unions, and other organizations the ability to set and recognize standards for apprenticeships. Allowing these associations to certify apprenticeships will pave the way for the rapid expansion of apprenticeships — and those will become the gold standard of an “Learn and earn” education — in this country.

We also support the Education Department’s Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program that encourages colleges and high schools to join with industry to provide more students early access to postsecondary education and on-the-job training.

Looking ahead, we must modernize the Higher Education Act in a way that helps citizens achieve their middle-class American dreams. Many students today are older and have family and financial obligations, yet many of our universities are still focused just on serving high-school graduates. But, there also are many young people who are simply not ready to pursue an undergraduate degree right out of high school.

Businesses also play a significant role in training our nation’s workforce, and we encourage more companies to take a leadership role.

Last July, the White House launched the Pledge to America’s Workers. The President asked companies to commit to investing in apprenticeships to help ensure that our country remains a global competitor.

To date, more than 200 companies have pledged to train more than 7.1 million workers over the next five years. These pledges provide new jobs, enhanced career opportunities, continuing education, and on-the-job training for American workers and students.

President Trump wants the new American Workforce Policy Advisory Board to provide recommendations that can be quickly implemented. The Board will develop a public campaign to deliver multiple pathways to career success.

It will create a mechanism to spread job opportunity information to former workers and to our youth who are perplexed about what to do.

It will modernize job candidate recruitment and training systems.

And it will encourage the development of employer-led training investments and measures of their impact.

The Boys and Girls Club of America will be a key partner in implementing the recommendations that the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board develops.

We look forward to working with all of you on addressing these deep-seated workforce challenges. We are thankful that organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America is confronting them head-on. We are also thankful that you have agreed to help us recruit young people to work as Census takers or enumerators.

We need to hire approximately 500,000 part-time workers by April 2020. The average pay nationwide will be approximately $19.50 hour. These are good jobs for young people serving in their community.

So, thank you, and I wish you the best of luck in launching a nationwide initiative to prepare our youths for the exciting and dynamic careers in the 21st Century.