In his State of the Union address President Barack Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead a reform of the country’s training programs to ensure the skills in the workforce match employers’ needs.
Biden traveled to upstate New York Wednesday promoting the President’s agenda. Speaking at Monroe Community College (MCC) in Rochester, he said community colleges are a vital part of the process of reinventing the nation’s workforce training.
But, Biden says the solution has to go back even further than college. To help fill the gap in industries like manufacturing, he says it’s time for high schools to bring back shop class.
“There’s a whole lot of kids who have great talent and have no idea that they have it or an interest in it," Biden says. "If they haven’t had the tactile contact, they don’t even know that they may love it.”
Dave Mancuso is a tooling and machining instructor at MCC and helps to teach classes for high schoolers during the summer. He says hands-on work isn’t for everyone. But for the kids who like it, the exposure opens them up to a world of opportunities.
“They come in with no knowledge at all of what they can expect and the way they excel is just amazing," Mancuso says. "I mean, some of them, they just pick it up like they were born with it and it’s great to see that happen.”
Biden says the Obama administration is working on a program to recalibrate high school education and give kids the opportunity to follow vocational paths as well as an academic one.
With rapid advancements in technology, he says, in 20 years all workers will need technical training of some sort, and that option needs to be available at an earlier age.
Biden says jobs are going unfilled in some industries because of a lack of trained workers and by 2020 there’ll be a need for an additional 870,000 skilled workers in the high tech manufacturing field. As industries advance, he says, training programs need to stay ahead of the curve.
“The jobs have changed, and the needs have changed," Biden explains. "In the next decade, 60 percent of all new jobs are going to require some education beyond high school.”
In addition to meeting the needs of industries scrambling for a workforce, Biden says, it’s important to ensure all workers are guaranteed a living wage.
“This is long past time to do that," Biden says. "That’s why we have to raise the minimum wage. Not only will it help those people out of poverty, but it also will generate economic growth. It’s time to rectify this injustice, and it’s time to rectify another injustice. It’s time to start paying women the same thing we pay men.”
The Obama administration has also urged employers to give the long-term unemployed a fair chance when filling vacant positions.
“Those of you who are employers know that if I walk in and I’ve been unemployed for 18 months, and someone else walks in unemployed for three months, and we’re both qualified, the job is going to go to the person unemployed for three months," Biden says. "Well, we’ve got to deal with this. It’s turning out to be structural long term unemployment."
CEOs and leaders in the business community will attend talks at the White House this Friday to address the issue of discrimination against the long-term unemployed.