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Job training at community colleges gets a boost

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by Mary Ellen Flannery/photo above courtesy of Michael Innes

Even as millions of Americans remain out of work, 3.5 million jobs remain unfilled—because workers today lack the skills to do them. It’s “outrageous,” said U.S. Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), who recently proposed a reauthorization of the 1998 Workforce Investment Act that would fund the President’s $8 billion Community College to Career Fund and provide training for those workers through community colleges.

“Now is not the time to cut back on programs that train workers,” Tierney said in a conference call with fellow legislators, business leaders and reporters last week. “This (bill) will strengthen those (training programs) that are working and innovate those that can be improved.”

Tierney filed the reauthorization jointly with Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), all members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.  Their main intent is to find jobs and careers for workers through the strategic partnerships between community colleges, in-demand sector employers, labor organizations and non-profits.

For example, Tierney cited the positive relationship forged between North Shore Community College in Massachusetts, the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, and General Electric (GE), which has produced highly skilled workers for manufacturing jobs at GE.

Similarly, in California, Ron Norton Reel, president of the Community College Association, can think of multiple career-prep programs, where college faculty and administrators work closely with local employers.

“Over at Taft, which is in the middle of the Central Valley, they have some really intricate programs to assist farming,” he said. Three hundred miles north at Sierra Community College, students can learn “mechatronics,” a cutting-edge program of electronics and mechanics that will make them extremely employable at lumber mills and ski resorts.

It’s no secret that community colleges serve a vital role in training workers for today’s jobs—just listen to President Obama. On a February visit to Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC), he told students there, “The truth is that the skills and training you get here will be the best tool you have to achieve the American promise, the promise that if you work hard you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your own kids to college, and put a little bit away for retirement.”

To that end, Obama proposed an $8 billion “Community College to Career Fund,” to train 2 million workers for well-paid jobs in high-demand areas like health care, transportation, and advanced manufacturing. Co-administered by the federal departments of Education and Labor, the fund would provide money to schools that partner with businesses on job-training programs.

“I am so proud to be part of an Administration that has made community colleges a centerpiece of ensuring that we have the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world,” said Jill Biden recently in an interview with NEA. Biden, the Vice President’s wife, also is an adjunct professor at NVCC.

This reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act covers much of the same ground as the White House. Specifically, its key provisions include:

  • Requires states to establish unified plans that coordinate the operation of job training, adult education, and postsecondary education programs;
  • Establishes common performance measures for programs and makes performance data accessible to students;
  • Measures performance not just on how many people get jobs, but on how many get postsecondary certifications;
  • Codifies a Workforce Innovation Fund, a competitive grant program to reward promising strategies in career pathways;
  • Funds Obama’s Community College to Career Fund, which focuses mostly on job training in in-demand areas like high-tech manufacturing, health care, and transportation;
  • Expands access to adult education and literacy programs;
  • Expands summer jobs and internship programs for youth.

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