Secretary Cardona Touts Pathways for Students to Well-Paying Careers at SMART Union Leadership Conference

Secretary Cardona Touts Pathways for Students to Well-Paying Careers at SMART Union Leadership Conference

August 2, 2023

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona highlighted the Biden-Harris administration's efforts to reimagine pathways to college and career in a speech at the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, rail, and Transportation (SMART) Workers' 2023 leadership conference. His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are available below.

Good morning! Wow, it's great to be here. Thank you to my friends in Connecticut's Local 38 and Local 40! I have to say, getting brought to the stage by union leaders from your home-state? Not a bad way to start a speech.

I'm feeling good, I'm feeling hyped. Is everybody here today feeling good?

Thank you, President Coleman, for the introduction and for all you do for the workers you represent and the labor movement at large.

I'm thrilled to be here with SMART. Do we have any tin knockers in the house?!

Man, SMART has quite a line-up this morning. Heck, I've run into so many of my Biden administration colleagues, we could have held a cabinet meeting right here on stage.

We're all here of course, for a reason. We work for the most pro-labor, pro-union, pro-worker President of the United States in generations! I'm proud to be President Joe Biden's Education Secretary, and proud to be here talking to you.

I've been around union workers all my life. Growing up, my Dad was a cop for 32 years. He was union. My brother followed in his footsteps and is a Lieutenant in the Police Department in my hometown, he's union too. My wife is an educator, she's union. And when I started out as a fourth-grade teacher, I was proud to be a card-carrying union member to, so much so, that I became Vice President of my Administrators Union when I was a school principal.

So, whether I'm with teachers or police officers or sheet metal workers, I feel at home because it's like a big family. Union members look out for each other. You support each other. You fight for each other. That's the spirit of organized labor.

You know, there's another word I like to use for organized labor. It's educated labor.

Union workers don't just get the job done. They get the job done right. That's because union workers are highly-skilled workers. I was recently talking to a Vice President of a Company in Columbus Ohio and he told me that the greatest resource he has are his employees. You are the greatest resource, wherever you work.

You've been trained. You've been mentored. You've been taught how to do your work, do it well, do it safely, and do it with pride.

I want to thank SMART for lending us your knowledge and know-how during the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan invested $130 billion to help schools reopen and recover.

For many schools, poor ventilation was a major roadblock to safely reopening. Many school leaders didn't know where to start. That's where SMART came in.

You worked with partner organizations to simplify the process. You helped education leaders identify the right solutions, whether it was investing in better filtration, improving air circulation, or installing new HVAC systems.

And when my Department issued guidance on how schools could invest in better ventilation, you better believe we urged leaders to use trained and certified workers! We wanted the lifesaving jobs to be done right, so we needed them to be union jobs.

We appreciate you. You helped the Biden-Harris administration go from 46 percent of school buildings open in January 2021 to virtually every school in America open for in-person learning just nine months later. Thank you!

You've supported us. Now let me talk about how we're supporting you. My Department has a plan for how this country can Raise the Bar and once again Lead the World in education. There is no reason we shouldn't be number one. We are America.

And a big part of our plan starts with recognizing that nearly every student we serve is eventually headed into the world of work. I get in trouble for saying that sometimes, but it's true.

Sure, we need to make college degrees accessible and affordable for every student who dreams of earning one. But I'm Secretary of Education and I'll be the first to say today's 'four-year degree or bust' mentality leaves too many students behind! Especially in our communities of color and rural and low-income communities.

Every year, thousands of high school students walk off the graduation stage with no game plan for their future. They may find a job. But what they need is a pathway to in-demand credentials and a rewarding career.

If you're in the SMART union, you already know: there's a tsunami of job creation coming.

For many years, we heard a lot of talk in Washington about infrastructure. We heard a lot of talk about rebuilding America's middle class. We heard a lot of talk about creating American jobs. But as the saying goes, talk is cheap! Action is what matters.

President Biden has shown us he does more than talk. He keeps his word, and he delivers action. That's why we have the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. That's why we have the Inflation Reduction Act. That's why we have CHIPS and Sciences Act.

These are transformative investments that will create millions of new jobs – including for workers with SMART. Walk into a healthy, energy efficient green school. Tour a brand new semiconductor factory. Travel through a modernized airport.

None of it is possible without you!

Like I said, we have a job tsunami on the horizon. Career opportunities that will support families, strengthen communities, and fuel America's competitiveness for decades to come.

If we don't prepare our young people for these careers – then shame on us! If we don't fundamentally change our high schools to make sure we have pathways to these high skill-high paying careers, then we are failing our kids. If you do what you've done, you're gonna get what you've gotten!

At the Department of Education, we believe raising the bar demands a total reimagining of the high school experience.

In this high school of the future, we show all students that college is one, but not the only, pathway to a brighter future. In this high school of the future, every student graduates with what we believe are the four keys to "Unlocking Career Success."

Number 1. Personalized career pathway counseling. I'm talking about students engaging with advisors who know their region's labor market inside and out, and have strong relationships with local industry, unions, and other workforce partners.

Number 2. Paid internships and apprenticeships that equip youth with on-the-job experience, open their eyes to the world of work, and help them build relationships with local employers.

SMART is a leader on this. You're partnering with CTE programs in Idaho. You're expanding new School-to-Work programs in Ohio. You're offering pre-apprenticeships in Georgia. In fact, SMART's registered apprenticeships have set a new standard for state-of-the-art, tuition-free ''earn as you learn'' programs.

Students are getting world class skills, family-sustaining wages, health coverage and retirement benefits from day one. Talk about Raising the Bar, SMART is leading the way!

That is how it's done!

That's why the Biden-Harris administration is making new investments in career-connected learning, and helping states leverage Perkins funds to get more registered apprenticeships off the ground.

And this leads me to Number 3. We want every student to graduate having already earned their first in-demand industry credential, whether it's in welding or coding or emergency response.

You should know that your Secretary of Education believes in the power of CTE because I've experienced the power of CTE. That's right – I'm a proud graduate of HC Wilcox Technical High School in Connecticut. But you shouldn't have to go to a technical high school to learn an in-demand skill!

And number 4: every student should graduate high school with at least 12 college credits that are transferrable to local colleges.

Imagine how much better prepared for today's world our students would be if they graduated with these four keys! Imagine how much stronger our unions could be if we grew a larger, more diverse pipeline of students eager to learn a trade!

Imagine how much prosperous our economy could be if we gave every young person a pathway to a family-wage job and a middle-class life! Let me tell you, my good friend, a union plumber, travels a hell of a lot more than me. He's planning his second trip to Hawaii!

My friends, we don't have to just imagine these things. With the most pro-union, pro-worker, pro-education President of our lifetimes in the White House, we can realize them!

This is our moment. Let's raise the bar and let's do it together!