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An economy built to last: Obama budget creates job training fund

This blog post is one in a series detailing President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013.

In his recently proposed budget for 2013, President Obama reiterated his call for a national commitment to creating an economy “built to last,” an economy capable of providing workers and their families with the opportunity to secure the American Dream. A critical component of this national commitment is the proposed creation of an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund [1] aimed at providing training that leads directly to a job for at least 2 million American workers in high-growth and high-demand industries.

Despite improvements in the state’s labor market over the past five months, North Carolina’s employment levels still lag well behind the national average. While the primary driver for the current jobs crisis is the lack of available job openings for prospective workers—nationally, there is still only one job opening for every four unemployed workers [2]—providing these kinds of training programs can help address these challenges. In the short run, training programs help to prepare workers to take advantage of existing open positions while simultaneously strengthening the overall competitiveness of the state’s labor market. Over the long term, research has also shown that post-secondary training is critical for reaching and staying in the middle class [3].

To improve opportunities for more North Carolinians and support a competitive economy, the President has proposed this new Community College to Career Fund as a way to catalyze the adoption of the most promising practices in worker training and economic development. Using the funding from this program, Community Colleges can partner with businesses to train workers in a range of high-growth and high-demand occupational skill-sets vital to North Carolina’s economy, including health care, advanced manufacturing, and others.

Specific provisions aimed at linking job training to specific hiring opportunities include:

Support targeted training and job placement [4]at Community Colleges. The Fund will provide resources for expanding community college-based training programs targeted towards high-demand, high-growth industries and provide workers with the most up-to-date certifications required for working in these industries.

As part of this commitment, the Fund will also support community college programs that provide paid internships with partner firms in targeted, high-demand industries. These industries will allow low-income students to earn course credit while gaining critical job experience and professional contacts in the industries most likely to hire. Best of all, this provision ensures that these student interns receive the compensation due for their work, instead of perpetuating the troubling trend of unpaid internships [5]that allow businesses to skip out on the wages, payroll tax contributions, and legal obligations normally required of employers in exchange for benefitting from the labor of their employees. Instead, the Fund promotes internships that provide students with job experience and the compensation they deserve for their work.

Strengthen customized training programs offered by community colleges. In a further effort to bridge the requirements of business and the skills of workers, the Fund will support partnerships between community colleges and businesses that provide customized training programs tailored to the specific needs of those businesses. These kinds of programs provide a pipeline of trained workers perfectly matched to employers’ skill requirements, thus reducing those employers’ costs associated with finding, hiring, and training their workforce. In North Carolina, the customized training programs offered by the state’s community colleges have been widely recognized as some of the most effective in the nation, and leveraging these Federal funds can help expand these programs and should be combined with assurances that workers can connect to good paying jobs with the opportunity to move ahead

Taken together, these provisions of the President’s proposed Community College to Career Fund provide important resources for strengthening North Carolina’s labor market and connecting workers to the training that can deliver success for their families and the broader economy.