In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama outlined his vision for a path forward on job creation in America– a critical issue at a time when the unemployment rate remains stubbornly above 9 percent, and when nearly 1 in 3 working families in the United States are low-income and are struggling to make ends meet.
Declaring that a new “Sputnik moment” has arrived, President Obama called for increased investments in innovation, education, infrastructure, clean technologies, and called for growth and job creation through increased American exports and trade.
Exclaiming that America has to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” he highlighted his administration’s “Race to the Top” program, a $4.35 billion competitive grant program for states to improve teacher quality and student achievement. President Obama also proposed a new plan to train 100,000 teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math over the next ten years, and urged Congress to make the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps families manage the burdens of college tuition, permanent. If America is to “win the future” and compete in a global economy, then building a future talent pipeline by ensuring that America leads the world in college degree completion is a worthy objective.
This is especially true if we are to pursue job growth through manufacturing and exports, as emphasized in the State of the Union Address, and in the blueprint that Jeffrey Immelt, the chair of the President’s new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, has outlined as the road ahead for America’s recovery. Indeed, Immelt has frequently talked of an “American Renewal,” which calls for a revival of American manufacturing and puts a heavy emphasis on future job growth through manufacturing and exports.
But what challenges exist to a revival of U.S. manufacturing and export-led growth in America? According to a recent analysis published by the Financial Times titled “Riveting Prospects,” a significant challenge to this revival exists.
The article points out that America has an insufficiently skilled and educated workforce. Jim McNerny, chief executive of Boeing, has said that despite high unemployment, his company and others are starting to run up against skills shortages that ‘threaten to spiral us into a vicious circle’ of shrinking capacity.
“If we allow our industrial base to fall into disrepair, opportunities for good jobs will dwindle…we will have to close production lines…At the same time, without a strong pipeline of future talent, companies won’t have the capacity to pursue new opportunities, create the next innovation in aerospace or develop new market segments, which will cause the U.S. industrial base to deteriorate further.”
Within this context, what can we do to enhance the capacity of our current and future workforce to address existing skills shortages to increase U.S. competitiveness and growth?
Corporate Voices for Working Families addresses this issue through its robust workforce readiness initiative. Through its “Learn and Earn” work, made possible with the generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Corporate Voices seeks to identify and support innovative partnerships between employers and community colleges to help build workforce readiness skills and to help low-income young adults compete for the jobs of the future.
In a recent report titled From an ‘Ill-Prepared’ to a Well-Prepared Workforce: The Shared Imperatives for Employers and Community Colleges to Collaborate, Corporate Voices emphasized the imperative for these innovative partnerships to help ensure that America leads the world in the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020 so that American businesses can be competitive in the global economy.
Through tuition assistance, flexible scheduling and partnerships with community colleges, employers can play a critical role in empowering young people to successfully combine postsecondary education and work.
The paper was released in conjunction with the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, and discusses examples of “Learn and Earn” partnerships with Verizon Wireless and Pima Community College, and with AOL, Year Up and Northern Virginia Community College. The full paper and all of Corporate Voices’ “Learn and Earn” micro business cases are available on Corporate Voices’ website.
Recognizing that reviving U.S. manufacturing and pursuing export-led job growth is a complex subject, there are concrete, positive actions that employers and community colleges can and do take to build our nation’s talent pipeline for future growth and prosperity.