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Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis Michigan Works! Association Annual Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Good morning. I want to start by thanking Luann for that generous introduction and congratulate Michigan Works on its 25th annual conference. I also want to recognize Representative Clark for his great leadership in Congress. Luann: I know you hold your big conference in different communities across the state each year, but I'm really happy to be in Detroit today.

Mayor Bing and his team have worked so hard to bring the Motor City back. I know a little something about what it's like to walk into a tough situation on Day One. Nearly four years ago, President Obama gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to serve as the Labor Secretary. We took over when the bottom was falling out of our economy. Credit markets were frozen, and our nation was bleeding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month.

But we have a different story to tell today. It's a story about a great American comeback. And it's a story in which you're playing a starring role. All of you: our workforce professionals, workforce board members, local officials, and business leaders. You have tough jobs, and I know it's not easy right now. This recovery has stretched your resources and filled your one-stops. But even in the toughest of times -- sometimes against all odds -- you've stepped up to the plate. I know it's because you care deeply about the people in your communities -- and the future of this state and our nation.

President Obama knows it, too. We know that your work is critical to building on our economic recovery. We've now added back 4.6 million private-sector jobs over the last 30 months, including nearly 2 million in the last year alone. And Michigan's unemployment rate has fallen by 1 ½ percent since last July.

Nationally, our manufacturing sector has added more than a half-million jobs over the last 30 months. You have to go all the way back to the 1990s to find another time when manufacturing grown as fast as it is right now. This sector is so important to our recovery, because it accounts for 60 percent of total U.S. exports and70 percent of all research and development done by American companies. We've stabilized the greatest economic crisis since the Depression.

We have momentum on our side, and we need to keep working to move the ball forward.

We know that Michigan Works is helping to lead this state's resurgence. One of your success stories is here with us today. Last June, a new company called Aevitas Specialty Services was born in Livonia, Michigan. They provide environmental and oil recycling services to our auto supply chain. Aevitas has taken party in a federal program called E3, which helps boost the economy, the environment and energy efficiency.

Aevitas is in the process of relocating 25 good-paying jobs to their new Detroit plant. They've partnered with Michigan Works to fill open positions with qualified local workers here in the Detroit area, and they're making a special effort to find veterans to fill those slots. The company hopes this is the first wave of a much larger expansion. Aevitas is drawing on the expertise of Michigan Works as they look for a transportation manager, a product director and a sales manager. It's another example of the important role our public workforce system plays in creating what the President calls an "economy built to last."

President Obama's budget is a clear indication of his commitment to job training programs. He had a lot of tough decisions to make in putting together his budget blueprint. But he believes that if we're serious about meeting the challenges of a 21st century economy, we have to invest in our most precious resource: the American worker.

You all play such a crucial role. You're advocates for your communities -- for local businesses and their needs. You're committed to getting them the skilled workers that will help them compete and win in the global economy. And you're advocates for the local workforce and what it has to offer.

You understand that in order for communities to truly recover, we need to get our job-seekers the specific skills employers in their communities are looking for. You know the local landscape better than anyone else. Companies trust your opinion. So they listen to what you have to say. Sometimes, you're even the deciding factor of when and where a company sets up shop.

Later today, I will be traveling to a Ford plant in Flat Rock. They've just announced that they're adding an entire new production shift to the assembly plant there that will employ 1,200 workers. They're going to be making Ford Fusions at that plant starting next year. Some people tried to write off the American auto industry a few years ago. Not President Obama. Now, the industry is currently in the midst of its biggest three-year job growth since 1996.

At the Department of Labor, we're focused like a laser on supporting growth industries that pay good wages that workers can raise a family on. Not just auto jobs and advanced manufacturing jobs; we also see tremendous potential here in Michigan to create IT jobs and green jobs.

It's why my department awarded $4.4 million to the Capital Area Michigan Works to create a new IT learning pathway for software testers and computer programmers. It's why we awarded $5 million to Automation Alley in southeast Michigan to train workers and job-seekers for technical jobs. It's why we awarded $2.1 million to the Macomb/St. Clair Workforce Board, so Michigan can be a national leader in advanced energy storage systems.

Overall, my agency invested $219 million in Recovery Act monies here in Michigan. We invested another $74 million under our Employment and Training programs last year. And we've invested $50 million to Michigan under the TAA program to retrain workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
You and I know how important it is to make training accessible and affordable to the people we serve. My Bureau of Labor Statistics recently crunched the numbers. They looked at a 10-year period and found that that 21 of the 30 fastest growing occupations will require a postsecondary certificate or degree by 2018.

But half of all unemployed adults lack any type of degree or certificate. So President Obama has laid down a challenge to all of us. He wants the United States to lead the world in the percentage of citizens with industry-recognized credentials by 2020. But we have our work cut out for us. If current trends continue, the next generation of American workers will be less educated than the previous generation for the first time in American history. So it's essential that we build a foundation for growth, and that starts with matching what's taught in the classroom with the needs of employers -- both on the office floor and the factory floor.

We know that a four-year education is out of reach for many of our unemployed. So we've put a greater focus on helping job-seekers obtain credentials that can be earned in as little as six months to two years, whether that's an associate's degree, a license or a certificate.

Credentials mean higher earnings, greater mobility and enhanced job security. According to one recent study, workers with an associate's degree earn 33 percent more than workers with only a high school diploma or GED. Workers with a bachelor's degree earn 62 percent more.

We think our community colleges are uniquely positioned to tailor their curriculums to meet the needs of local businesses. That's why we've created an $8 billion fund to help them build capacity. We recently awarded a $2.8 million grant to Alpena Community College here in Michigan. The college will help hundreds of laid-off workers in northeast Michigan get retrained to prepare for high-paying green jobs in fields like biofuels, maritime technology and construction.

We're just getting started on this program. My department has only awarded the first round of community college funding. There are three rounds left to award. So I encourage every workforce board here today to collaborate and partner with your local community colleges and employers to submit a grant application.

As long as I'm Labor Secretary, we're going to do everything we can to help you create economic growth at the local level. This means giving our workforce professionals the flexibility you need to respond to local needs. That's why we're continuing to push for WIA reauthorization. Unfortunately it's stuck in partisan gridlock.

We need to strengthen partnerships with our adult literacy and TANF initiatives, so every adult with low literacy is getting vocational training while they learn to read and write. We need to invest in more programs that serve our at-risk and disconnected youth. And we need to do more for our veterans to get them into good jobs when they come home.

Last year, we created a website called My Next Move for Vets. Veterans can now enter their military occupational code and translate it into a civilian job category. The site includes information about job opportunities, salaries, apprenticeships and local institutions that provide skills training that local employers require.
We're also very proud to have developed the veterans "Gold Card." This card provides recent veterans with six months of intensive job search assistance at our American Job Centers.

We're so thankful for your efforts to support veterans and their families. We're doing a lot at the Department of Labor, in many cases because we work with committed partners like you.

So with that, I'll wrap up my comments. Again, I just want to stress how glad I am to have your support in our shared mission. Thank you for all that you do as we partner to put Michigan back to work. Have a wonderful conference.

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