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U.S. Secretaries Promote Partnerships Between Businesses and Colleges at Philadelphia Community College Summit

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Philadelphia (Feb. 28, 2011)U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Philadelphia partnering the agencies to promote education and job training.  They stressed the critical role community colleges across the country play developing America’s workforce.  There were three events total:  a tour of District 1199 C, a town hall meeting at the Community College of Philadelphia, and a roundtable discussion with local minority small business owners.  Secretary Duncan attended the first two, as they related most closely to education and Secretary Solis finished her day with the roundtable discussion, as it exclusively concerned labor issues.

Tour of District 1199 C

District 1199 C is an affiliate of the National Union of Hospitals and Healthcare employees.  Through collective bargaining, a Training & Upgrading Fund was established to U.S. Department of Labor and Education Visit Philadelphiaassist its members and the community in advancing out of minimum wage jobs and keeping up with job market demands.  Monday was the first day of class for the newly funded Health Information Program.  Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had an opportunity to tour the Breslin Learning Center. 

There, they were able to visit the Health Information Program firsthand, the Pre-Nursing/Pre-Allied Health Program and the ESL classes.  They were joined by Union Chair of the National Union of Healthcare Employees and President of District 1099 C Henry Nicholas and Congressman Chaka Fattah of the 2nd District.

Community College Regional Summit

Chakah Fattah at Philadelphia College SummitCongressman Chaka Fattah of the 2nd District commenced the town hall by introducing Raquel Valdez, an immigrant student representing Community College of Rhode Island.  She shared her story of the challenges faced learning English and enrolling in school, but she was conveyed gratitude for the opportunities provided by the school and government funding to advance.

Valdez went on to introduce Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the Community College Regional Summit at the Community College of Philadelphia.  The aim was to convey the important role community colleges have in preparing students for the 21st Century job environment.  Secretary Duncan warned that many countries are out-educating us, particularly in areas of math and science.  In a single generation, Duncan reported, the U.S. had fallen from first to ninth in percentage of college graduates; the college completion rate stands at 40 percent.

Many who drop out, Duncan explained, do so not because of inability to learn or lack of motivation; rather, it is largely Raquel Valdez at College Summitbecause they cannot afford to keep up with the rising costs of education.  Therefore, the Department of Labor announced a solicitation for grant applications under the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training Program.  This will award community colleges nationwide with approximately $2 billion over the next four years.  Grants will help support the improvement and development of postsecondary education. 

Secretary Duncan said that it is national goal to see college completion rates rise by 50 percent by 2012, securing first in the world of college graduates again.  The focus of the funds, which will start to be distributed this year, is to help community colleges service their students so completion rates rise and students with degrees, students will be able to meet their personal goals.  “I hope that community colleges feel it’s their moment in the sun,” said Duncan.

Secretary Solis echoed her colleague, announcing that $122 million in funding will be awarded this spring to community colleges offering career pathway programs for in-demand fields. However, she also added the importance of businesses conveying needs to the colleges.  It is not enough to simply spend money, but to do so in a manner that will meet the challenges of the 21st Century economy.

“Businesses must partner with educational institutions in order to make sure those institutions are training to meet their needs; but [businesses] must also continue to provide on-the-job training so employees have the opportunity for upward mobility,” said Solis.  Healthcare, renewable energy and information technology are just some of the nation’s fastest growing industries, Solis explained.  “We want to create jobs that will extend into a career—not just minimum wage jobs or temporary jobs.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan at Philadelphia College Summit

“Winning the Future” Roundtable Discussion

Philadelphia College Summit Roundtable DiscussionAs part of a continuation of the national dialogue between the Obama Administration and small business owners, Secretary Solis finished her day by participating in a roundtable discussion that was co-hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement

This discussion was geared at helping minority small business owners prosper in a changing economy.  Secretary Solis underscored the President’s challenge to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.  She went on to stress that no one has a monopoly on good ideas and there is no reason we cannot start the movement of accomplishing the President’s challenge right here in Philadelphia.

She went on to explain that the Department of Labor has worked with industries to develop competency models and has teamed up with Project GATE to help entrepreneurs create, sustain and expand small businesses.  The Department of Labor also launched Skills for America’s Future Program, which unites communities to train Americans for jobs of the 21st Century, as well as online tools for job-seekers and employers such as mynextmove  and myskillsmyfuture.

Participants went on to discuss successes, failures and barriers in terms of expansion with Secretary Solis.  This exchange of ideas served as both a discussion and work session and Secretary Solis reported that she had great takeaways to incorporate into upcoming initiatives in D.C.

For more information on the U.S. Department of Labor, please visit http://www.dol.gov/ and for more information the U.S. Department of Education, please visit http://www.ed.gov/.

Photos provided by U.S. Department of Labor

Contact Michael Fino at mikefino@verizon.net

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