Seeking to offset weak job growth last month, President Obama announced plans today to establish a credentialing system for community-college students seeking jobs in the manufacturing sector, which saw particularly little growth in May. The announcement came during a trip to Northern Virginia Community College, where Obama met with students in training programs.
In an expansion of the administration’s “Skills for America’s Future” program, which helps companies partner with community colleges to better match training to job needs, the new program aims to provide 500,000 community-college students with the credentials to help them secure manufacturing jobs. The Manufacturing Institute, the nonprofit arm of the National Association of Manufacturers, will lead the effort.
“The president has repeatedly demonstrated that he completely gets that manufacturing has a future in America and needs to have a future in America, and I think this is another step along that very important road,” Obama’s assistant for manufacturing policy Ron Bloom said in a Tuesday conference call about the program. “It’s a clear recognition that while we obviously need the skilled engineers and the skilled scientists and others to lead, we also need skilled, blue-collar workers.”
The administration said that the standardized credentialing system is needed because training programs don't often line up with the skills employers seek. With input from the Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and various national manufacturing organizations, the Manufacturing Skills Certification System will be available in 30 states as a for-credit program of study.
“There’s a mismatch that we can close, and this partnership is the way to do it,” President Obama said in making the announcement. “You’ll be able to know that the diploma you earn will be valuable when you hit the job market.”
There will also be an effort to begin the training process in high school by building partnerships with 3,500 member high schools and 200 colleges. Obama said that high school students need to see the “relevance” of their education to their future careers.
During his remarks, Obama called on Congress to pass the Workforce Investment Act to authorize funds that would help the government better match up the training offered by programs with employers' needs. Obama’s 2012 budget provided $10 billion for the program.
As he did on Tuesday in a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama blamed some of the recent economic failures on Bush-era policies. In his remarks at the community college, he mentioned a need to reverse a prerecession trend of declining jobs in manufacturing. On Tuesday, he said the worldwide recession was in part caused by “a whole set of policy decisions that had been made and challenges that had been unaddressed over the course of the previous decade.”
Although Obama frequently laid blame for the poor economy at the feet of the Bush administration before the 2010 midterm elections, he had abandoned that argument in recent months in favor of forward-looking policy speeches about the importance of investment.