Building Skills for America’s Future

Cross-posted from the White House blog.

Today, President Obama announced the launch of a new initiative Skills for America’s Future – an effort to improve industry partnerships with community colleges to ensure that America’s community college students are gaining the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the workforce.

In his remarks before the start of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) meeting today, President Obama laid the vision for Skills for America’s Future program:

The idea here is simple:  we want to make it easier to connect students looking for jobs with businesses looking to hire.  We want to help community colleges and employers create programs that match curricula in the classroom with the needs of the boardroom. 

We’ve already seen cases where this can work.  Cisco, for example, has been working directly with community colleges to prepare students and workers for jobs ranging from work in broadband to health IT.  And all over the country, we know that the most successful community colleges are those that partner with the private sector.  So Skills for America’s Future would help build on these success stories by connecting more employers, schools, and other job training providers, and helping them share knowledge about what practices work best.  The goal is to ensure that every state in the country has at least one strong partnership between a growing industry and a community college.  Already, companies from UTC to Accenture to the GAP have announced their support for this initiative, as well as business leaders like my friend Penny Pritzker and the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson.   I hope other business leaders will follow suit, and I’m also setting up a taskforce to work directly with the business community on this effort.

The President also emphasized the importance investing in education as a means of investing in our long-term economic growth.

But what I won’t do is cut back on investments like education that are directly related to our long term economic performance.  Now is not the time to sacrifice our competitive edge in the global economy.  And that’s why I disagree so strongly with the proposal from some on the other side of the aisle to cut education by 20% in next year’s budget.  It’s a cut that would eliminate 200,000 children from Head Start programs; a cut that would reduce financial aid for eight million college students; a cut that would leave community colleges without the resources they need to meet the goals we’ve talked about today.  That just doesn’t make sense to me.

President Obama understands that the education and skills of the American workforce is crucial to our ability to compete in the global economy. That’s why the President has set a goal of having an additional 5 million community college degrees and certificates by 2020, and called on PERAB to develop new steps to ensure that those degrees and certificates will provide graduates with the skills they need to get ahead in their careers.

To respond to the President’s call, PERAB reached out to private sector employers, labor leaders, philanthropy organizations, and policy leaders within the Administration solicit their views on the workplace development challenges of the 21st century.  Many employers identified public-private partnerships as one of the most effective ways to ensure that college graduates and certificate earners have the skills they need to be successful in the workforce. 

The Skills for America’s Future initiative will match up the employers like PG&E, United Technologies, McDonald’s, Accenture and Gap Inc. with community colleges in every state to develop curricula and programs that will prepare graduates to excel in the workforce.  To learn more about this initiative visit www.SkillsForAmerica.org.

Tomorrow, Dr. Jill Biden will host the first ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, an effort to bring together bring together community colleges, business, philanthropy, federal and state policy leaders, faculty and students to discuss how community colleges can help meet the job training and education needs of the nation’s evolving workforce.  Leaders from the Skills for America’s Future will be leading a breakout session during the summit to discuss best practices for building robust, successful partnerships. 

You can join the conversation as well, by submitting your ideas and comments in our online dialogue on community colleges.  Visit WhiteHouse.gov/CommunityCollege to get started.