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Jackson Cit Pat: Column: U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg says state, local governments should take lead on job training

April 23, 2013
Opinion Editorial

Michigan's economic growth is directly related to how well we educate our children, and how well we train our workforce for today's, and tomorrow's, jobs.

Too many people in Michigan are still looking for work, or having trouble cutting through bureaucratic red tape to access the specific training they need for the industries that are offering employment. But with better education and the right training, we would see more of those jobs being filled in Michigan and across the country. To do this, we need to return the decision making to the state and local government to develop an effective job-training system.

I believe it is imperative that institutions of higher learning are able to prepare tomorrow's workforce as they see fit and in a way that will best serve the community. In December, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation making it possible for community colleges to offer four-year degrees in cement technology, maritime technology, energy production technology and culinary arts.

Jackson Community College is now moving forward with a plan to offer degrees in energy production technology and culinary arts. On April 15, the college's trustees voted in favor of a resolution asking for authority to grant baccalaureate degrees.

Offering students four-year degrees right in our own backyard is one way our community is helping close the "skills gap." Unemployment in Michigan is near 9 percent, and yet according to Michigan Talent Bank, there are almost 60,000 jobs available across the state. The problem is that businesses simply cannot find enough workers to fill their skill-specific jobs.

Unfortunately, our country's current job skills programs are riddled with inefficiency. In 2011, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office identified nearly 30 poorly performing job training programs costing taxpayers about $20 billion a year. On a local level, employers are often left out of decisions to improve workforce training programs due to bureaucratic restrictions on local workforce investment boards.

To address these issues, the House recently passed the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act. It will consolidate or eliminate more than 30 proven ineffective job training programs while saving tax payer dollars. The SKILLS Act will also remove roadblocks that prevent job seekers from accessing the job training they need so they can more quickly prepare for new careers in design manufacturing, engineering, technology, construction and health care, to name a few.

This month I had the opportunity to discuss job training with my colleague on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. We examined how we can prepare our existing workforce for the jobs that exist now, as well as in the near future. We also discussed local economic and workforce needs and heard from community leads on ways that businesses and higher education institutions can work together to help rebuild our economy and put folks in Michigan back to work.

As I continue my work in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a member of the Education and Workforce Committee, I remain committed to reforming our federal policies that enable job creation for a healthy economy.

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