Biden: Job training can strengthen middle class

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Vice president’s report praises S.C. apprenticeship program

 

On the same day last week that President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act into law, Vice President Joe Biden released a 76-page report outlining a pathway to a stronger middle class through better job training.

Rebecca Hartley, director of pathways at the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development (CUCWD), said Biden’s White House report, “Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity,” exhibited some terrific ideas.

“We need to ramp up worker skills in this country,” she said.

The report said the “consensus is clear: We must fundamentally rethink the pathways to well-paying, middle-class jobs, and open those pathways to all Americans.”

The study heralded the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as consistent with Biden’s key job-driven elements and as a significant legislative reform for the nation’s job training system.

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In correlation with the new law, the White House report indicated the Obama administration would promote partnerships between education and workforce institutions to create training programs, increase the number of apprenticeships, and empower job seekers and employers with better data on available jobs and the skills needed to fill those jobs.

The report also highlighted opportunities in high-growth industries like advanced manufacturing, information technology and health care.

“Many dynamic companies in these sectors aren’t just expanding their workforces,” said the report’s authors. “They are creating jobs that pay middle-class wages.”

Hartley said South Carolina is leading the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing, but the state would have to expand worker education programs to boost more people into the middle class and meet employers’ needs.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 11.24.01 AM“Manufacturing jobs aren’t what they used to be,” she said. “They’re high-tech now, and workers need a solid background in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”

Clemson economist Bruce Yandle said as manufacturing employment increases, the targeted tax cuts would matter, but the industry’s average wages are similar to the government and services sectors nationwide.

There are many paths to higher lifetime earnings and a healthy manufacturing sector can stimulate all of them, he said. The Palmetto State has long been a leader in connecting technical students to jobs, and “the state apprenticeship program is the latest bloom on this well-established flower.”

Biden’s report singled out Apprenticeship Carolina, an assistance office within the state technical college system. “South Carolina apprenticeships have grown from fewer than 1,000 apprentices in 2007 to more than 5,000 today. By offering employers a modest $1,000 tax credit per apprentice and establishing Apprenticeship Carolina, South Carolina has made it easier for employers to design and launch apprenticeship programs tailored to their companies’ needs.”

Hartley said the vice president suggested engaging employers up front when designing programs.

Everything the Clemson center does is based on industry needs, and Biden’s approach fits well with its existing policies to connect Upstate businesses with an educated workforce, she said. “We can accomplish more together than we can separately.”

The White House report is available online at bit.ly/whitehouse-skills-report.

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