Credit: US DOL

Labor Secretary Perez Pushes for Upskilling

By Corey Murray

Looking to promote partnerships between community colleges and employers, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez speaks to a panel of students, educators and businesses people at a Boeing plant in Washington State.

As a huge segment of the U.S. manufacturing workforce approaches retirement (the average U.S. manufacturing worker is 50 or older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez knows it’s only a matter of time before a mass exodus from the profession widens the nation’s already troublesome skills gap.

That’s the message Perez recently took to Washington State, where he met with community college graduates and others at a Boeing aviation plant in Renton.

Sitting on a panel that included representatives of the state’s community colleges as well as three former students who now work for Boeing, Perez talked about the importance of upskilling and the need for community colleges and businesses to work together to meet local and regional hiring demands.

A report by the Seattle-based King 5 television network (check out the video below) covered Perez’s remarks and highlighted the results of Air Washington, a four-year, $20 million TAACCCT grant that was awarded to a group of 11 local community colleges in 2011. Administrators say the program was designed to meet the “growing workforce demands, as identified by employer partners in the aerospace industry.”

Boeing machinist and Renton Technical College (RTC) grad Sklyer Booren said the training he received at RTC as part of that program helped him get the job.

Elsewhere at the plant, Boeing toolmaker Laura Everett told reporters she worked in retail and property management before landing a gig in shipbuilding and eventually getting hired by Boeing to work on planes. She was turned down for a job at the company in 1999, but after a few years of work experience and continuing education through RTC, she was able to break through.

Now, Everett and Booren work at a plant that produces an impressive 42 airplanes per month.

“As America upskills, America succeeds. And that is what we are trying to do,” said Perez during the panel discussion. During a tour of the plant, Perez called Washington “a model for the nation.”

Not the only one

Washington State has a compelling story to tell. But it’s not the only state to develop a successful workforce partnership program through the use of the Labor Department’s TAACCCT grants.

In an article on AACC’s Community College Daily, reporter Ellie Ashford details the successful programs in New York and Virginia, including one that hires displaced workers into emerging careers in the health sciences.

Late last year, Perez announced an additional $474.5 million in grants, $377 million of which will go to U.S. community colleges and universities for workforce programs and partnerships. In all, the TAACCCT program has awarded $2 billion ($500 million annually) in funds since fiscal year 2011.

In a speech at Front Range Community College, in Colorado, where nine community colleges across the state will receive $25 million to create successful job-training programs in the area of advanced manufacturing, Perez said, “These partnerships strengthen not only the American workforce, but the American economy as well.”

The nation’s top educator agrees: “As our economy continues to rebuild, businesses are looking for employees with the skills their company needs to stay competitive, and America’s students and adult workers want to be equipped to fill those roles,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a press release. “These grants help to meet those demands, providing critical investments in education and supporting key partnerships.”

Has your college benefited from a TAACCCT grant?

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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