July 29, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Build on What's Already Working, Mr. President | Commentary

By Fred Dedrick

Next week, the president will undoubtedly spend a great deal of his State of the Union address discussing the economy, jobs and long-term unemployment. President Barack Obama needs to lay out a clear road map for putting Americans back to work. And that road map should build on what’s already working.

Here are the three things that any unemployed or under-employed American, and every senator and representative, should want to hear next Tuesday. Or, for that matter, anybody deeply troubled by data such as December’s report that 2.4 million people were “marginally attached to the labor force.” They want to work, are available for work and had looked for work in the prior 12 months, but not over the past four weeks — a number that has barely changed in a year.

First of all, for those seeking employment, America should tackle the skills gap community by community. That’s because this “gap” is different depending on where one is located, what industry is being described and even what occupation needs to be filled.

Communities need flexible, innovative, short-term intensive training opportunities for the long-term unemployed to convert their outdated skills into competencies for today’s economy. Fortunately, in many communities, regional workforce collaborations — workforce development groups partnering with industry and community leaders — are already in place and have shown to have great success in meeting regional needs and getting people into good jobs. Let’s use and replicate them in other communities to stimulate this economy. It’s a model that every member of Congress can readily help implement in his or her district.

Second, those who say the answer to today’s economic malaise, long-term unemployment and high levels of youth joblessness is a four-year college degree are simply not facing the facts. The vast majority of unemployed or underemployed folks can’t go back to college full time. They don’t want to be absentee parents and their families depend on them bringing in a weekly income.

More educational opportunities will certainly help, but for most of these struggling job seekers and workers, the answer needs to be a combination of learning while working. Combining work with education and training produces great results as companies get higher-skilled workers attuned to their business environment and job seekers get skills, experience and a measure of self-worth.

Other individuals need a subsidized post-secondary pathway to in-demand careers and on-the-job training. For young adults, particularly minorities, we need to connect more of them to the labor market and to the world of work through a vastly expanded set of learn-and-work opportunities across many industries, including apprenticeships, on-the-job-training and paid internships.

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