White House to announce more on initiative to link skilled workers, manufacturers

McClatchy NewspapersJune 8, 2011 

WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama visits North Carolina on Monday, he and a group of job advisers will talk about expanding a federal skills program that the president hopes will build on the kinds of relationships that companies in the state already are establishing with local community colleges.

The White House will announce today plans to build on an initiative that officials say will link American manufacturing companies to the kind of skilled workers they'll need in the near future.

Many such relationships already exist in North Carolina. Biotechnology companies have helped set up programs at local community colleges in the Triangle. NASCAR has a relationship with colleges in the Piedmont. And the White House pointed out Tuesday that Caterpillar will put a manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem in part because of a training program there.

The federal program, called Skills for America's Future, focuses on training 500,000 people to become manufacturing workers in the next five years, officials said.

The Obama administration plans to shift $2 billion to develop certifications for a variety of jobs needed in the manufacturing sector. That means that, for example, a welder would be able to leave a community college with a standard certificate that employers in shipbuilding, computer building or car manufacturing could recognize as a proof of the welder's skill set.

"That's a skill that's in high demand right now," said Ron Blum, assistant to the president for manufacturing policy, in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "These skills are cross-cutting in all kinds of places across the manufacturing economy."

On Monday, Obama is scheduled to visit the Raleigh-Durham area - White House officials won't say where yet - to meet with his new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The council is made up of private-sector industry leaders.

Part of Monday's discussion in North Carolina will revolve around manufacturing, said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council.

"When CEOs express the need for more skilled workers to staff good jobs and find good locations within the United States, the president's response is, 'You need to help us communicate with colleges and students what are precisely the skills needed to fill those jobs,'" Sperling said.

The White House hopes to help develop a curriculum by the National Association of Manufacturers' advanced manufacturing skills certification system for community colleges in 30 states. The credentials that would be developed through the federal program would not be an alternative to a two-year associate degree, officials said, but would help potential employers understand what skills students have developed.

The expansion also hopes to develop relationships with high schools across the country, develop an online resource for job seekers with manufacturing credentials and assist 30,000 at-risk youth obtain professional credentials in high-demand occupations.

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