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Mid-Atlantic Networking for Career Development Association Conference: Advancing workforce development

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KEYNOTE SPEECH - Mid-Atlantic Networking for Career Development Association Conference: Advancing workforce development

[As prepared for delivery]

It's a pleasure to be with you all this afternoon.

And it's an honor to join you to discuss this most important of issues facing our nation - workforce development.

Right now, the stakes couldn't be higher.

I had the privilege of visiting India and Pakistan in January.

The purpose of my trip was human rights monitoring and advocacy.

But I was amazed at the attitude displayed by workers in this region of the world.

Not only are there millions of highly educated potential employees, they are all highly motivated and hungry to get ahead.

I was impressed, but sobered.

If we're not careful, the American workforce - as excellent as it is - will be surpassed in skill and ambition by countries like India.

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan says strengthening worker training and education programs is critical to putting Americans back to work and creating jobs.

In recent testimony before the House Education & the Workforce Committee, Greenspan emphasized that providing "rigorous education and ongoing training to all members of our society" is essential for future job growth and worker security in the United States.

Jobs - that's the magic word this year.

Who can create them? Who will keep them around?

It's the most important word in any election year.

It's thrown around on Sunday talk shows and in editorials as the holy grail of electoral politics.

The talking heads identify the issue as THE deciding factor in the outcome of a political game.

They're right.

But we know it's much more important than politics.

It's about people.

It's about John and Susan putting food on the table for Johnny and Susie.

And it's about those workers I met in India who long for their shot to compete with an American worker for a job.
There's no doubt it's the central issue on peoples' minds.

And rightly so.

American workers rely on the availability of jobs.

And our economy relies on the availability of skilled workers to fill those jobs.

When this process breaks down, parents worry about how to support their children, students lament a lack of future prospects, and professionals - veterans of the workforce - fear for the survival of their careers.

As our economy has changed over the last twenty years, this dynamic has presented the number one workforce challenge to policy makers.

The new skills and knowledge necessary for success in the information economy have demanded a shift in what and how employees learn.

I can remember when I balanced the books of my small business with a handwritten ledger, a pencil, and a calculator.
I could never have imagined doing this on a computer.

Fortunately, this old man never had to learn!

But workers who have endured this transition have had to adjust and adapt in order to keep their careers alive.
Admirably, millions of Americans have taken the initiative to learn new skills on the job or to learn a new job altogether.

But this dynamic has placed new demands on employers as well - including increased labor costs, escalating health care rates, regulatory compliance, training, and high tax rates.

In some cases businesses decided to consider other sources of labor.

Consequently, many businesses have downsized or moved some operations overseas.

Workers displaced by layoffs or worldwide sourcing have had to adjust their skill base to find new jobs.
Some believe that we need to severely penalize companies that move jobs overseas to combat this problem.
Or we need to erect strict barriers around our economy to keep jobs in.

The fact is this won't work.

The global marketplace is simply too interconnected to adopt a policy of isolationism.

Besides, I simply refuse to accept that an American worker cannot compete with and beat the pants off of any worker, anywhere in the world.

That's what the isolationist believes, it seems to me.

That the American worker cannot compete, and so they need the government to take them out of the game.

I wish I could trust government as much as they do.

But I can't

This view is a recipe for disaster.

American workers and companies cannot prosper in a vacuum, isolated from the rest of the world.

It simply does us no good.

Some sort of trade or regulatory barrier might keep jobs in, but it doesn't keep jobs around.

Just as we work with other nations to address political issues, we need to work with other nations to address economic issues.

Isolating ourselves is not the answer.

Isolation strangles our economy and prevent American products from reaching new markets.

It drives up costs and drives out foreign investment.

There is no incentive to innovate.

There is no reward for risk-taking.

There are no new jobs created.

The fact is that 95% of potential consumers live outside the United States.

If we can't tap these new markets, our economy will not be able to support jobs.

In this environment, workers and companies must adapt to the changing economic climate.

They must remake themselves so that they can continue to lead in the world marketplace and successfully meet their customers' needs, creating sustained growth and jobs here at home.

In the process, some workers will lose their jobs, but more and better opportunities will be created.

I think most of us would agree that U.S. companies should help workers who lose their jobs.

But there are so many other stakeholders in this process as well.

A company can offer temporary assistance, but our workforce must have the tools to make decisions about the future.
The government can offer a band-aid for the injury of lay-offs, but our community must have a long-term, proactive strategy for building and sustaining a 21st Century Workforce.

We all need to partner in developing a strategy to provide these tools.

On a government level, we first need to enact policies that promote growth and job creation.

If our economy doesn't create jobs, our entire discussion today is useless.

Government cannot force businesses to create jobs and it cannot create them itself.

Government cannot fire people who work at a business.

And it cannot relocate jobs to China.

But a government's economic and fiscal policy is directly linked to the health of the job market.

And one of the biggest job killers in America is our convoluted federal tax code that significantly increases the cost of doing business.

As we work to compete globally, we are handicapping ourselves locally.

The tax code sucks hundreds of billions of dollars out of our economy - and out of the hands of workers and businesses - each year.

Tax relief and reform, regulatory reform, and dealing with health care costs all encourage business expansion - and lead to more jobs.

These policies improve how our companies compete in a global marketplace.

Our workforce benefits most from this growth - in the form of better and more jobs.

By reducing the cost of doing business here, these policies will also help attract more foreign investment.

In Pennsylvania alone, foreign investment supports more than 250,000 jobs.

Second, government should stand up for workers displaced by trade - fair and unfair.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance program was established to help workers displaced from their jobs due to international trade.

Qualifying workers can receive up to 104 weeks of job training, including classroom, on-the-job, employer or basic and remedial education training.

They can also receive reemployment services: job search, relocation and subsistence allowances; up to 104 weeks of cash benefits if enrolled in full-time training; and, a 65 percent health insurance tax credit.

Each year, Pennsylvania is among the top recipients of TAA assistance.

Third, the federal government has an interest in ensuring that employers have access to an educated, highly trained workforce.

We have invested a great deal of money in our schools.

And we have made it clear that we expect results from schools.

That's vital to teaching our kids the skills they need to succeed in the workforce.

Government at every level should make sure this money actually gets to classrooms where it's needed most.
And higher education is a key part of an educated workforce.

We have the best universities in the world.

However, the cost of higher education has been rising significantly faster than the rate of inflation or the growth in family incomes for twenty years.

The problem has reached a crisis level today, but it is not a new problem.

According to the College Board, in the 1970s there was little, if any, real growth in college prices.

In the early 1980s, however, tuition and fees began to grow much more rapidly than consumer prices - in fact, during the 1980s, the cost of attending college rose over three times as fast as median family income.

This trend of rapidly-increasing college costs has continued through the 1990s.

Today, the cost of higher education prevents 48 percent of college-qualified high school graduates from attending a four-year institution, and 22 percent from attending any college at all.

At this rate, by 2010, more than 2 million college-qualified students will be completely denied the opportunity for a postsecondary education.

The federal government is devoting significant resources to higher education - about $65 billion in direct financial aid to students this year alone.

Yet even this dramatic federal support cannot keep pace with decades of steep increases in the college costs.
This is a problem that must be addressed.

Both with a serious discussion on a local and state level with university officials.

And on a national level.

Parents should be given the opportunity to save for their children's education without being penalized.

Although universities and colleges are a large part of post-secondary education, they are not the only part.

Community colleges and vocational-technical schools play a large part in helping Americans from all walks of life get a good education that can help lead to a variety of career choices.

They help workers learn new skills and prepare for the future.

In the House, we are working to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.

The Perkins Act provides federal assistance for secondary and postsecondary vocational education programs at the high school level and at technical and community colleges.

This program can be improved by:

ensuring that vocational-technical students obtain academic achievement, emphasizing academic accountability for vocational-technical education at the secondary level, and emphasizing innovative initiatives that promote seamless transitions from secondary to postsecondary education. Supporting vo-tech training is an important part of a balanced view of educating the workforce.

Local and state officials must take a look at how we can better promote vo-tech schools.

However, the central worker training policy of the federal government is the Workforce Investment Act, or WIA.
Through WIA's "one-stop" delivery system, job seekers have access to labor market information, job counseling, and job training to help them get back on their feet.

The WIA system, created in 1998, is helping many Americans find jobs and job training - but it could be helping even more.

The WIA system is sometimes hampered by duplicative and redundant bureaucracy that prevents it from being as effective as it could be for workers and their families.

Duplication of services under the current WIA system reduces the amount of money that could be used to efficiently provide employment and training services to individuals seeking jobs.

Overlap in training programs under the current WIA law has contributed to the growth of a confusing patchwork at the state and local level. Governors and state and local officials need the flexibility to target these resources toward the unique needs of their communities.

In May last year, the House passed a reauthorization of this program to improve the nation's job training system.
H.R. 1261 does six primary things. It:

creates a consolidated funding stream to streamline program administration and create more program efficiency at the state and local level. Allows faith-based organizations to participate in the nation's job-training system Continues to offer employment services as the core services in the One Stop Career Centers. requires state and local workforce investment boards to ensure that the system is dynamic and reflective of the workforce needs in the local area, and increases connections to economic development.

eliminates arbitrary provisions of current law that prevent someone from accessing training immediately if appropriate to meet his or her employment goals.

creates a $250 million initiative to strengthen the role of community colleges and other institutions that provide job training services to Americans striving to get back to work.

It's vital that community organizations take part in these federal programs.

While the government can create a good plan, community groups are usually providing the one-on-one assistance necessary to offer help to the workforce.

Community organizations can partner with the government to accomplish these tasks as well.

Each year, I have the privilege of visiting several of these organizations in our area.

And I work closely with a number of them.

Last year, I met with students and teachers at the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center.

By employing the latest technology, the CCTC trains hundreds of workers in the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

The center serves workers of all ages.

But as the American population ages, more and more workers will require updated skills to meet the demands of the job market.

Small businesses are often an ideal match for older workers.

But many lack the money to train employees and hesitate to hire workers who will require training.

That's why I have worked closely over the years with an organization called Experience Works.

In addition to being the largest of the Commonwealth's providers of the Senior Community Service Employment Program, the organization has received numerous grants to offer specialized training for older and disadvantaged workers, including: technology, financial services support, commercial driver's license, and home health aide/certified nursing assistant.

These are just two examples of how community organizations can participate in this process.

They are vital link in the effort to strengthen our workforce.

And while these organizations provide training, we cannot overlook the vital role of counseling in the process of developing a healthy workforce.

In every high school, every college, every trade school, every career program, temp agency, and career center, is someone who provides advice.

There's a proverb that says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed."

Countless high school students make a choice about college and career based on the advice of counselors, teachers, coaches, family, and friends.

Any plan for building a strong, competitive workforce must take into consideration the need for counsel and advice on how to more forward.

Employees should work closely with trusted advisers as they move forward in their career.

This will also help them prepare for the worse, should they lose their job or decide to change careers.

This proverb applies to community leaders as well.

I value the input of my constituents, business leaders, union leaders, organization leaders, and local elected officials in my decision-making in Washington.

The important thing to remember is that the responsibility to build and sustain a 21st Century workforce does not rest on any single segment of society.

It rests on all of us.

Government must promote policies that create jobs and encourage education and training.

Community organizations must continue to reach out to those who need training or assistance.

Employees must take the initiative to go to school, get training, make a good plan.

Employers must take responsibility for helping employees update their skills.

And we must all coordinate our strategies to make sure that we can compete and win in the global marketplace.

I thank you for your time.

I look forward to working with you to marshaling all of our resources to the cause of workforce development.

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