Labor Secretary Chastises US for Lack of Workforce Investment

  United States Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez meets with the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 15, 2013 in Houston.Speaking in Washington, D.C., Department of Labor head Thomas Perez labeled America’s lack of a workforce investment policy a “sleeper issue.”  Just days after the Obama Administration announced $100 million in federal grants that would ostensibly create innovative programs to cultivate a new generation of ready-to-work Americans, Perez delivered the hard-hitting comments:

“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,” Perez said Tuesday at a National Journal event underwritten by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the College Board, and the Rockefeller Foundation. “A key fundamental challenge has been to demonstrate more effectively the return on investment in our workforce system.”

In the coming decade, non-white employees will make up a larger portion of the workforce than ever before.  Therefore, beginning minority outreach early to provide industry-specific education and skills needs to be a priority.  The Obama administration, Perez said, will include both educators and employers in the development of future workforce bolstering programs:

“We’re really trying to engage with business leaders and educators to figure out what credentials we can develop that are portable and relevant,” Perez said. “Skill development is lifelong. And community colleges are the secret sauce of up-skilling.”

Some groups, such as construction unions, have long understood the necessity of skilled trade training. Internationally, programs to develop these skill sets have helped countries tackle the problem of youth unemployment and alleged “skills shortages.”  A poll was unveiled in conjunction with Perez’s remarks, which shows that Americans have evolving views on the necessity of a four-year college degree. Still, an overwhelming majority of respondents believe that post high school education and training has been a positive in their lives.  According to the National Journal:

A College Board/National Journal Next America Poll that was released at the same event found that the vast majority of Americans—90 percent—who sought more training after high school would do it again, particularly those who attended a four- or two-year college, even if they never obtained a degree. At the same time, the percentage of Americans who believe that young people need a four-year college degree in order to succeed continues to decline, dropping more than 10 percentage points in the past two years.

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