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Preparing a Workforce Worthy of Detroit

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez

Detroit is one of America’s great cities and an integral part of our economic heritage. Detroit has faced its share of challenges, none greater perhaps than those you confront today. But through that adversity, you’ve always emerged a stronger force for progress because of your willingness to innovate and work together.The challenges we face in Detroit and in America are too great to overcome with the old playbook or bureaucratic stovepipes. Partnership and innovation are once again critical to getting Detroit back on its feet. In addition to the $300 million in federal investments we’ve committed, the Obama administration is playing a critical role in the effort to cultivate and integrate federal, state, city, philanthropic and private sector support to restore Detroit’s economic greatness.

That means supporting partnerships that better connect employers to skilled workers, like the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation and its Hire Detroit campaign. It also means investing in the skills of those workers, ensuring we’re training them in the fields for which Detroit-area businesses are hiring. Today, I’m traveling with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the Detroit area to highlight efforts that do both.

At Macomb Community College we’re highlighting a $25 million grant to eight Michigan schools that is part of the TAACCCT program, which stands for Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training. As an acronym, it leaves something to be desired. But as an investment in our community colleges’ capacity to prepare people for 21st century jobs, it is unprecedented. These 57 grants support projects in every state, and they’re a partnership between the Labor and Education Departments that are helping expand training in a range of growing industries like advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care.

Skills development is a pillar of President Obama’s strategy to grow the economy from the middle out, not from the top down. The Detroit area has a talented and resilient workforce. But for those workers to climb ladders of opportunity, they need us to strengthen the rungs and invest in their development. TAACCCT does exactly that, helping workers acquire precisely those state-of-the-art skills that employers need.

Partnership and innovation are key to the program’s success; just to be considered, community colleges must demonstrate a commitment to both. Particular emphasis is placed on strong partnerships with local employers. The direct involvement of local businesses in program development assures that the college is aligning its instruction — hand-in-glove — with local industry’s needs. This kind of industry-driven approach is the only sensible way to build human capital and empower the workforce.

Programs like TAACCCT and Hire Detroit are a win-win. They strengthen the regional economy, help businesses stay on the competitive cutting edge in a complex global marketplace, and pave pathways to the middle class for workers of all ages. These innovative partnerships are critical to the Obama administration’s mission of creating economic growth, opportunity and widely-shared prosperity.

Here in Detroit and across America, they serve as a model for solving the challenges we face. They’re also a model for career education at all levels, which is why I’m proud to once again be working with Secretary Duncan to make $100 million available for Youth CareerConnect grants to provide high school students across the country with the industry-relevant education and skills they need for a successful future. We’re accepting applications for those grants now.

Through the partnership and innovation embodied in these programs, the Obama Administration is proud to support local leaders — community colleges, businesses and workers — in building a workforce worthy of Detroit that will help preserve its proud economic heritage.

Thomas E. Perez is the United States secretary of labor.

From The Detroit News: