For anyone listening carefully, President Obama made a bold statement in his weekly radio address Saturday on job training. “Government is not--and should not be--the main engine of job-creation in this country,” he said.
For a president facing reelection in a sluggish economy, where unemployment lingers stubbornly around 9 percent and looming uncertainty over the debt ceiling could spark a double-dip recession, it takes guts to acknowledge that he doesn’t hold the power to fix it.
He’s right, of course. But as anyone in therapy will tell you, admitting that you alone don’t have the power to heal your wounds is incredibly difficult. It is even harder when you are the leader of a large, struggling populace that doesn’t see the economy picking up and expects you to fix it.
Job training is not sexy, but it is also is one of the most effective ways to place people into employment and grow a skilled workforce in the long term. It has the added benefit of being a shockingly bipartisan effort. The White House, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and the business community all see eye to eye on the need for partnerships between government, higher education, and the private sector to help job seekers learn the skills that make them employable.
Even in one of the most bitterly divided congressional sessions in recent memory, Republicans and Democrats alike could find themselves voting en masse for legislation that will update the nation’s job training programs to better align them with economic needs. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., expects to shepherd a bill through Congress this year—with the full support of Republicans. Murray chairs the workforce subcommittee on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. She has been working on the bill for several years with ranking member Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
The draft job training measure introduces a new thread of economic thinking into the state and city agencies that operate the federally funded job-training facilities—tying the programs on the ground to a unified economic development plan. If it works, the legislation could form a model for bridging a skills gap between jobs and job seekers that continues to plague education policymakers and businesses.
It’s hard to argue with that logic, even if you’re a House Republican. In a Saturday address skewering the White House for bloated government spending, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., also said that policymakers should “focus our efforts toward growing the private sector where jobs are created.”
The White House is adopting its own full-court press on job training apart from Congress. Obama will visit Raleigh, N.C., on Monday to meet with his Jobs Council to work on the steps the government can take to spur private sector hiring in the short-term and ensure our workers have the skills and training that the employers need. Earlier this week, the White House announced a new partnership with the National Association of Manufacturers—a traditionally Republican-leaning organization—to provide 500,000 community college students with “industry-recognized credentials.” Some of those credentials could be earned quickly, in months rather than years, and place people in good-paying jobs that manufacturers for years have been struggling to fill.
Obama neatly placed his finger on the Zeitgeist of the American thinking when he offered these parting words about the voters who reach out to him. “They aren’t asking for much. They’re just looking for a job that covers their bills. They’re just looking for a little financial security.” Obama, on his own, won’t be able to curb their money anxieties. If he is successful in pressing policymakers and the business community to work together to train a new workforce, it will go a long way toward keeping the economy afloat—even if it doesn’t give him much of a boost at the ballot box next year.