The Obama administration on Monday announced two new initiatives aimed at better training students for “in-demand jobs of the future” at both the high school and college levels.
President Barack Obama announced 24 awards totaling more than $100 million to schools and partner institutions throughout the country to redesign high schools and prepare students for either college or registered apprenticeships (view a full list of recipients here). The so-called Youth CareerConnect grants provide funds for school districts to create career academies and early college high schools that focus on high-demand industries such as health care, technology and engineering.
“We’ve got to make sure that our economy works for everybody, not just a few,” Obama told a crowd at Bladensburg High School – one of three schools in Prince George’s County, Md., that will share $7 million. “We’ve got to make sure opportunity exists for all people.”
With a $7 million grant, the Los Angeles Unified School District will build career academies in six high schools that will focus on health care, biotechnologies and other related fields. Likewise, a $7 million grant to the New York City Department of Education will fund the creation of two new early college high schools that allow students to earn associate degrees while still in high school. Grants also were awarded to local education agencies in Denver, Indianapolis and Clinton, S.C., as well as to the nonprofit Jobs for the Future in Massachusetts.
“You guys are all coming up in an age where you’re not going to be able to compete with people across town for good jobs – you’re going to be competing with the rest of the world,” Obama said. “We’ve got to outwork and outinnovate and outhustle everybody else.”
The Obama administration has put a strong emphasis on educational attainment and job training. In his 2014 State of the Union address, the president tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading an “across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: Train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.”
While speaking at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual convention Monday, Biden announced the creation of a new apprenticeship consortium comprised of community colleges, businesses, labor unions and industry organizations. Through the Registered Apprenticeship-College Consortium (RACC) – which is administered by the departments of Labor and Education – students will be able to earn college credit while being paid to learn a trade.
The program will target “in-demand” jobs in the health care, information technology and energy industries, among others.
“As you all know, over the last not just 10 years before we were elected, but even back to the Clinton administration, the aperture to get into the middle-class was closing rapidly,” Biden said. “The middle-class is beginning to shrink. Folks’ indication about who they were or what they thought, what they thought they could be, began to diminish itself.”
Community colleges, he continued, provide “the best, most direct avenue to the middle-class for those who are struggling and those who are in the middle-class.”
The consortium is part of a broader job skills agenda. Currently, 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, Biden said. Through the RACC, an individual’s apprenticeship would be transferable as college credit. Electricians, for example, could earn up to 60 credits, Biden said – the equivalent of about two full years of college.
“Through training at a community college … folks can transition to become welders, truckers, pipefitters, or one of the more than 100 different jobs involved in working at a natural gas site,” Biden said. Although those jobs often pay $60,000 to $70,000 per year, Biden said there’s a “giant mismatch” between job openings and those qualified to fill them.
If community colleges support apprenticeships and form partnerships with local businesses, the problem could start to ease, he said. Still, there are just 375,000 people in registered apprenticeship programs nationwide today, Biden said. Put another way, the country would need to increase that number by 2.5 million next year to be on the same per capita level as Great Britain, and by 7 million to be at the same per capita level as Germany.
“That’s a game change for a lot of people struggling to choose between going to work and going to college, when they can do both,” Biden said. “With an apprenticeship, they’re able to … earn while they learn.”