As part of a government collaboration to prepare and place workers facing long-term unemployment into good jobs in high-demand industries, the Department of Labor announced yesterday the availability of approximately $150 million in grants as part of the “Ready to Work Partnership.”  Three weeks ago, President Obama signed a federal employer commitment and issued a Presidential Memorandum to address the issue of long-term unemployment and ensure that those who have been out of work for long periods of time are given a fair shot. The memorandum underscored the need for American workers to have the resources and training needed to acquire in-demand job skills.
The Commerce Department is playing a key role in this effort by partnering with businesses, as well as other federal agencies, to facilitate industry-driven workforce training programs. A strong and skilled workforce is a fundamental part of a competitive U.S. economy, driving economic growth and attracting foreign direct investment. That is why Secretary Pritzker has made workforce skills a top priority of the Commerce Department and is a key pillar of the “Open for Business Agenda.” In fact, she is the first Commerce Secretary to focus on skills training.
Before becoming Secretary of Commerce, Pritzker helped launch Skills for America’s Future, a national employer-led initiative to prepare workers for 21st century jobs, and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a local intermediary in Chicago focused on the long-term unemployed. These two public-private partnerships align employer needs with training to prepare workers for positions that are available and set them on a real career path.
At an event hosted by the White House on January 31, Secretary Pritzker co-led a panel with CEOs who signed the White House pledge to support the long-term unemployed. She emphasized the value of employer-led partnerships to better inform demand-driven training efforts and ensure that workers have the training they need to be competitive in the global marketplace. The strength of the American workforce drives our economic recovery, so it is critical that the federal government take a leading role in investing in workforce training efforts. For these efforts to be successful, government must collaborate with stakeholders from the business community, educational and training institutions, labor unions, and state and local governments to make sure our training programs are more job-driven, integrated and effective.
The Commerce Department is already actively working with businesses to ensure that workers get the tools and training they need to fill the in-demand jobs that are open in their communities. For example, the Economic Development Administration’s Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership  and the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership  both include a focus on identifying and supporting efforts by manufacturers to help workers gain the training they need. In fact, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez made the grant announcement this week in Pulaski, NY, the headquarters of Fulton Companies, a manufacturer that received funding through the Commerce-led, multi-agency Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge.
The “Ready to Work Partnership” grant competition is part of a larger challenge that President Obama has issued to reform the country’s training programs to ensure that they give workers the skills they need to do the jobs that employers need to fill. Vice President Biden is leading an across-the-board review of federal workforce skills investments, ensuring that our training programs are job-driven and focused on helping people who are ready to work attain the skills needed to fill good jobs in high-demand industries.
The Department of Commerce looks forward to working with our partners at the White House and the Departments of Education and Labor to find concrete, collaborative solutions to make sure America’s workforce and training systems are thriving.