OAKDALE, Pa. - President Obama on Wednesday announced a pair of grant programs designed to bring academic institutions and businesses closer together to help prepare the American workforce for jobs that may otherwise go unfilled.
The grant programs total $600 million, money already in the federal budget. The decision to designate the money for these grants arose from a review of federal jobs programs by Vice President Biden, who joined Obama at a community college outside Pittsburgh to make the announcement.
"Too many Americans, if they are lucky enough to have a job, are working harder and harder to get ahead," Obama said. "We've got to make sure we have an economy that's more than just growing for the top down, but from the middle class out."
Obama's push for new job-training programs has been made more urgent, senior administration officials say, by the rapid pace of changes reshaping technology, the economy and the education system.
At a time of slow economic growth, Obama is outlining ways, some tried in the past, to carve a more direct path between community colleges and private-sector jobs, particularly in the advanced manufacturing, health-care and technology industries.
Positions in those fields are open now, senior administration officials say, but the challenge for schools and for industry is to establish broadly accepted vocational training that will prepare the workforce for the next generation of jobs in a fast-changing economy.
Here at a campus of the Community College of Allegheny County, where Obama spoke in a long warehouse with shelves of engines, parked fork lifts and stacks of shipping pallets along walls, educators have designed programs that the president said work and should be replicated across the country.
"You're doing something right that is making a difference in people's lives, and we want to spread the word," Obama said. "It's never been more important for our folks to be trained for the jobs that are there - and for the jobs of the future."
In his State of the Union address, Obama asked Biden to head "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."
The announcement Wednesday emerged from the review. But several previous presidents, including Obama's two immediate predecessors, proposed similar ideas to better adapt the workforce to the jobs that the economy was creating.
Senior administration officials said this initiative is attempting to be different, calling it "job driven" rather than dictated by training that may not be best preparing the workforce for the skills needed to secure jobs and a career path.
Doing so, they say, requires far greater collaboration between business and community colleges - what one senior official described as a "collaborative ecosystem" - to design the right training, set standards recognized across an industry and not just by one company, and clearly outline the route from training to a job.