By Jeff Mason
WAUKESHA, Wisc. Jan 30 President Barack Obama
promised to overhaul federal jobs training programs on Thursday
on the second leg of a tour intended to highlight his proposals
to improve the fortunes of low- and middle-income Americans.
Obama traveled to Wisconsin to discuss the efforts to ensure
training programs match up with the demand for jobs as part of a
trip that will also include a stop in Tennessee to discuss
The trip is a follow-up to Obama's State of the Union speech
on Tuesday, in which he called for greater economic fairness in
a nation that is still recovering from the deep 2007-2009
Focusing on job training spotlights the fact that there are
jobs available in the improving economy while demonstrating the
president is at work trying to get more unemployed people into
positions that suit them.
"We've got a lot of programs, but not all of them are doing
what they should be doing to get people filled for jobs that
exist right now," Obama said of existing government training
programs during a visit to a General Electric facility outside
"We've got to move away from what my labor secretary calls
'train and pray.' You train workers first, and then you hope
they get a job."
The GE Energy facility in Waukesha produces engines for
utilities and oil and gas fields. The plant partners with a
training program in the area that groups colleges, labor unions,
and community groups to provide training for its workers.
"What you're doing at this plant and across this region can
be a model for the country," Obama said.
"You can make a really good living and have a great career
without getting a four-year college education as long as you get
the skills and the training that you need," he said.
Obama has a close relationship with GE chief executive Jeff
Immelt, who has advised him on strategies for recovery and job
creation after the recession. Immelt was not at the event on
GE employed about 134,000 people in the United States and
about 305,000 people worldwide at the end of 2012.
Obama on Friday will meet at the White House with chief
executives of companies that have agreed to do more to try to
hire people who have been out of work for six months or longer.
A group of 300 companies, including Wal-Mart, Apple and
Ford, have agreed to follow a new set of "best practices" for
recruitment, Obama said in an interview with CNN.
"Do not screen people out of the hiring process just because
they've been out of work for a long time," Obama said.
"Folks are looking at that gap in the resume and they're
weeding them out before these folks even get a chance for an
Obama has been unsuccessful in efforts to push Congress to
extend jobless benefits for people who have been seeking work
for more than six months. Jobless benefits for 1.5 million
Americans expired at the end of 2013.
Obama also signed a presidential memo on Thursday to launch
a review of U.S. training programs that will be headed by Vice
President Joe Biden.
The move shows the president following through on the pledge
he made on Tuesday to not to wait for congressional action to
move ahead on his priorities. Obama told lawmakers in his
address that they could do their part to support job training by
providing more funding for proven training programs.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives said they
had already passed a bill to consolidate such programs and said
the Government Accountability Office, an independent
congressional watchdog, had already produced a review of how to
overhaul the system.
"Mr. President, we agree and we don't believe we need to
wait," said Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor,
and other top Republicans in a letter to Obama about the
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that having Biden lead
the training program review would elevate its importance.
"When the vice president is put in charge of an effort like
this, it gets done and it will be effective, and that's what the
president expects," Carney said.
Obama started a series of trips to put a spotlight on the
relatively modest policy agenda he outlined in his State of the
Union speech on Wednesday, calling for a higher minimum wage and
improved savings opportunities for workers in stops in Maryland
Later on Thursday he is scheduled to visit McGavock High
School in Nashville, the site of a program that seeks to align
students' educations more closely with employers' needs.
McGavock is Nashville's largest school and had been on track
for state takeover because of poor performance. However, the
city has since overhauled its large high schools and brought in
companies to help design job-related educational
The president also emphasized in his Tuesday speech that he
wants to improve education from pre-kindergarten through
college, and praised teachers and principals in schools "from
Tennessee to Washington, D.C." for preparing students better
for the changing economic landscape.