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Obama pushes job training initiatives to boost US manufacturing

There's a gap between skills US manufacturers want and skills workers have, Obama said during a visit to a hybrid-car repair lab Wednesday. Can job training at community colleges help close it?

By Staff writer / June 8, 2011

President Barack Obama visits the Northern Virginia Community College Alexandria, Va. Campus's Automotive Services classroom, on Wednesday, June 8, to highlight the need to prepare the workforce to compete for manufacturing jobs across the country.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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Who’s going to build and maintain the high-tech cars of the future? As the skill base shifts for workers in American manufacturing, training needs to keep pace.

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President Obama rolled up his sleeves Wednesday morning at a hybrid-car repair lab where students can earn gold-star credentials from the National Association of Manufacturing (NAM). He toured the automotive training program at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus before announcing an expansion of initiatives to boost the manufacturing workforce.

The new partnership between private-sector manufacturers, community colleges, and NAM aims to provide 500,000 community college students over the next five years with industry-recognized credentials.

“The irony is, even though a lot of folks are looking for work, there are a lot of companies that are actually also looking for skilled workers; there’s a mismatch that we can close,” Mr. Obama said, surrounded by auto parts and tools.

Through these partnerships, companies will know what training was included in particular degrees, Obama said, and if you’re a student, you will “know that the diploma you earn will be valuable when you get to the job market.”

That’s important, because currently “there is such a splintering of credentials – so many different models and vendors ... [so] by moving toward more of a national model, we’ll see a lot of economies of scale,” says Maria Flynn, vice president of Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based national nonprofit that promotes credential attainment and career advancement for low-income Americans.

As community colleges and businesses move in this direction, she says, it will make it easier for, say, aerospace companies to recruit more employers and for dislocated workers to merge into new careers.

Obama also announced expanding mentoring for young people and a new multimedia project called “Discover Your Skills,” to raise awareness of job opportunities and the skills needed, particularly among the unemployed. Discovery Communications, which includes the Discovery television channel, will lend to the effort its on-air personalities and its connection with US schools.

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