Perez: We’re Getting ‘Our Butts Kicked’ on Workforce Investment

The Labor secretary says U.S. spending on public-sector training efforts is lagging.

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. 
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
April 10, 2014, 5 p.m.

Labor Sec­ret­ary Thomas Perez sat down earli­er this week with At­lantic Me­dia Ed­it­or­i­al Dir­ect­or Ron­ald Brown­stein to dis­cuss the chal­lenge of up­grad­ing Amer­ic­an work­ers’ skills. Perez spoke at the spring sum­mit for Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Next Amer­ica pro­ject one day after Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced a new Youth Ca­reer­Con­nect grant pro­gram to pro­mote the de­vel­op­ment of sec­ond­ary schools, such as New York City’s P-TECH, that com­bine high school and com­munity-col­lege de­grees with work ex­per­i­ence in one ac­cel­er­ated pack­age. Ed­ited ex­cerpts fol­low.

In terms of up­grad­ing skills, what is the re­l­at­ive bal­ance of re­spons­ib­il­ity between the pub­lic sec­tor — and the kinds of pro­grams that you ad­min­is­ter — and the private sec­tor?

I think it’s a part­ner­ship. I spend as much time with [Com­merce Sec­ret­ary] Penny Pritzker as with any­one in the Cab­in­et. We’re try­ing to work with the busi­ness com­munity to un­der­stand not only what the de­mand needs are, but what are the un­der­ly­ing core com­pet­en­cies that are es­sen­tial to meet those de­mand needs and what can we do to scale up cre­den­tials that would be in­dustry-re­cog­nized and would be stack­able [and] port­able.

Do Amer­ic­an em­ploy­ers in­vest enough in train­ing their work­ers?

Amer­ic­an com­pan­ies in­vest quite a bit. But with mid­sized and smal­ler em­ploy­ers, a lot of times they’re not cap­able of hav­ing their own train­ing de­part­ment in a way some­body like Siemens can have. A big part of what we’re try­ing to do is re­cog­nize that we need to build an eco­nom­ic sys­tem that en­ables every­body to get ac­cess [to ef­fect­ive train­ing]. You com­pare the pub­lic-sec­tor in­vest­ment in work­force in the U.S. with oth­er coun­tries and once again we kind of get our butts kicked. A fun­da­ment­al chal­lenge right now for us is to demon­strate more ef­fect­ively the re­turn on in­vest­ment from our pub­lic-work­force sys­tem.

The pres­id­ent just an­nounced the Youth Ca­reer­Con­nect grants. What is the prob­lem you’re try­ing to solve there?

To provide a ca­reer path­way for people that is rel­ev­ant to ex­ist­ing de­mand needs and, in that pro­cess, give people ex­pos­ure to the op­por­tun­it­ies that are out there. At Sarah Goode Academy in Chica­go — this is a STEM academy — I’m guess­ing that 90 per­cent or more of the stu­dents would qual­i­fy for free and re­duced meals. If you ask them, “What did you do last sum­mer?” [they tell you,] “I came to school and I took geo­metry.” Then they were go­ing with their ment­ors at IBM to see what it’s like to be in the work­force. They are aim­ing high. We’ve got to give our kids the op­por­tun­ity to get these ex­per­i­ences that get them aim­ing high.

Do you think these kinds of pro­grams could be a sig­ni­fic­ant con­trib­ut­or to the way kids are edu­cated?

In short: ab­so­lutely. This isn’t a pan­acea, but I think this is a very prom­ising mod­el.

You al­luded to the re­view of fed­er­al job-train­ing pro­grams that Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden is con­duct­ing. What should we ex­pect from that?

A blue­print that will en­able us to help more people up-skill and get ac­cess to the in-de­mand jobs that are out there, and [also] ideas for how to scale pro­grams that work. We’ve got a little bit of a tree-fall­ing-in-the-woods chal­lenge be­cause there’s great in­nov­a­tion at loc­al and state levels, but these solu­tions, in my ex­per­i­ence, tend to be re­gion­al. I want to be able to look every­body in the eye and say, “If you’re will­ing to work hard and get the skills to com­pete, we’re go­ing to find that road map for you.”

Why are there so many fed­er­al jobs pro­grams, and do they need to be con­sol­id­ated?

The best way to an­swer that ques­tion is to give you an ex­ample. There are five dif­fer­ent fund­ing streams for vet­er­ans. There are some vets who just need help writ­ing their résumé, and they’re off and run­ning. There’s a fund­ing stream that en­ables us to help vets with dis­ab­il­it­ies. Some vets are home­less. I don’t think of those five fund­ing streams as five pro­grams. I think of these like apps on an iPhone. In some cases, you may need all five of those apps to help them; in some cases, you might just need em­ploy­ment ser­vices. I don’t think the most im­port­ant ques­tion is that num­ber [of pro­grams]. I think the most im­port­ant ques­tion is: What is our op­er­at­ing philo­sophy for how we can meet the de­mand needs of em­ploy­ers and the up-skilling needs of work­ers?

Stephanie Czekalinski contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
WILL APPEAR TOGETHER TOMORROW
As Expected, Clinton Goes with Kaine
8 hours ago
THE LATEST
SO MUCH FOR THE RATINGS BUMP
Convention Ratings Same as 2012
15 hours ago
THE LATEST
8,000 DOCUMENTS
Wikileaks Releases Trove of DNC Docs
16 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Wikileaks published more than 8,000 documents purportedly taken from the Democratic National Committee Friday, just days before the start of the party's convention in Philadelphia. The documents included briefings on off-the-record fundraisers and candid photographs."

Source:
YES, WE KAINE?
Clinton Announcing VP Pick Today
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

Hillary Clinton "is widely expected to announce her choice" of vice president "in an email to supporters while on a campaign swing in Florida on Friday afternoon." The consensus: it'll be Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, although Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are also said to be in the running.

Source:
EARLY BUMP FOR TRUMP?
New Round of Polls Show a Tight Race
23 hours ago
THE LATEST
  • A Rasmussen Reports poll shows Donald Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton, 43%-42%, the fourth week in a row he's led the poll (one of the few poll in which he's led consistently of late).
  • A Reuters/Ipsos survey shows Clinton leading 40%-36%. In a four-way race, she maintains her four-point lead, 39%-35%, with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein pulling 7% and 3%, respectively.
  • And the LA Times/USC daily tracking poll shows a dead heat, with Trump ahead by about half a percentage point.
×