(Recasts throughout with comments from speech, RNC spokesman,
By Steve Holland
OAKDALE, Penn., April 16 President Barack Obama
and Vice President Joe Biden took a trip to a Pennsylvania
community college on Wednesday to promote a plan to train
workers for skills they need for hard-to-fill jobs.
For security reasons, Obama and Biden flew in separate
planes for the event in this suburb of Pittsburgh but rode in
the same limousine from the airport and appeared together at the
Community College of Allegheny County.
With the visit, they put a renewed emphasis on the U.S.
economy after the Obama administration last week met the early
enrollment benchmarks for Obama's healthcare law months after
the disastrous rollout of Healthcare.Gov.
Obama told an audience that some jobs lost to overseas
competition in recent decades are coming back to the United
States but that they are sometimes hard to fill because workers
lack the skills.
He announced a plan to use $500 million in existing Labor
Department funds to pay for a competition to spur employers and
community colleges to work together and develop training
programs that are designed to get workers prepared for specific
Another $100 million will be drawn from a Labor Department
fund to support programs aimed at training apprentices in new
fields with fast-growing occupations such as information
technology, healthcare and advanced manufacturing.
"In today's economy it has never been more important to make
sure that our folks are trained for the jobs that are there and
for the jobs in the future," Obama said.
Obama, who travels to Asia next week, and Biden, who leaves
on Sunday for Ukraine, appeared to be enjoying their time
together out of Washington.
During a classroom tour of a "mechatronics" exhibit
featuring machinery and electronics, when a machine whirred to
life, Obama told Biden: "Joe, don't put your fingers in there."
"I'm proud to introduce a buddy of mine," Biden said in
introducing Obama to the crowd.
"Joe and I decided it was time for a guys' trip," said
He said that before the trip he had no idea there existed a
discipline known as "mechatronics" and that it "sounds like
something that Godzilla would be fighting."
Training and retraining workers for job skills has been a
problem that has bedeviled various presidents.
In the current economy, for example, many people lack the
skills to become software developers or computer programmers,
and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates American companies
will need 522,000 people with these skills in the next decade.
In addition, there will be a need for 110,000 pharmacists,
224,000 electricians and 941,000 customer service
representatives, as well as people trained as welders,
machinists, dental hygienists and even electrical power line
Administration officials who briefed reporters about the
initiative said the aim is to address the needs of a
"The pace of change - technology, globalization - has
changed the nature of work and the speed at which necessary
skills change," said a senior Obama administration official.
The plan is part of an effort launched in Obama's State of
the Union speech in January to act with his own presidential
authority in the absence of a consensus from a divided Congress.
While the economy has rebounded since bottoming out early in
Obama's first term, many Americans remain unemployed or
underemployed, and Obama has made it a priority of his second
term to help the middle class and reduce income inequality.
Congressional Republicans believe they have the right
antidote for the problem, and wish Obama and the Democrats would
consider their proposals.
A legislative proposal called the SKILLS act, passed by the
Republican-controlled House of Representatives, would eliminate
and streamline 35 programs and create a Workforce Investment
Fund to serve as a single source of support for workers,
employers and job seekers.
"Republicans have passed numerous pro-jobs bills - like the
SKILLS Act - yet President Obama and the Democrats who control
the Senate have done nothing to advance this legislation," said
Jahan Wilcox, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal in Washington; Editing
by Ken Wills and Tom Brown)