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From here to the world: Job training that works

By Jill Biden and Tom Perez
Special to the Observer

In Charlotte, an automated welder needs repairs, bringing the production line to a halt. In Oregon, a computer virus disrupts sales for thousands of small businesses. In Southeast Asia, storms knock out power to the local hospital, putting patients’ lives at risk. For businesses in this region, around the state and even the world, what happens next could depend on the work of rural Cleveland Community College (CCC) in Shelby.

CCC is developing a program to train people in these kinds of “mission-critical” skills that businesses depend on for their very survival 24 hours a day. It includes instruction in cybersecurity, HVAC, infrastructure maintenance, emergency operations and more.

We visited the college Monday to learn more about the program, to visit classrooms and talk to students. And we highlighted a $23.2 million grant that the federal government is making to support this innovative curriculum.

It’s a part of the Labor Department’s TAACCCT program – that stands for Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training. As an acronym, it leaves something to be desired. But as an investment in our community colleges’ capacity to prepare people for 21st century jobs, it is unprecedented. As a community college educator (Biden) and a former state official with longstanding community college relationships (Perez), the two of us understand the vital role these institutions play in workforce development.

Skills development is a pillar of President Obama’s strategy to grow the economy from the middle out, not from the top down. We have a talented and resilient workforce. But for them to climb ladders of opportunity, they need us to strengthen the rungs. TAACCCT does exactly that, helping workers acquire precisely those state-of-the-art skills that employers need.

The TAACCCT program is now in its third year, having pumped nearly $1.5 billion total into community colleges nationwide. The latest round of funding, announced earlier this fall, includes 57 grants that will support projects in every state. They will expand programs in a range of growing industries including advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care. The grants reward collaboration. Cleveland Community College is the lead partner in a multi-college consortium that includes three other N.C. schools and one in Georgia.

Partnership on several levels is the key to the program’s success – indeed, it is a prerequisite for consideration for a grant. Local employers in particular are directly involved, so that the college is aligning its instruction – hand-in-glove – with industry’s needs. This kind of demand-driven approach is the only sensible way to build human capital and empower the workforce. There’s no point in offering a certification or credential in advanced widget manufacturing if no business in the area is hiring widget technicians.

The TAACCCT program is a win-win. It strengthens the regional economy. It helps businesses stay on the competitive cutting edge in a complex global economy. And for workers, it paves a career pathway and serves as a springboard into the middle class. It catapults them into jobs that can support a family and provide basic economic security.

We’re proud to help Cleveland Community College offer top-notch instruction in mission critical operations. And the TAACCCT program overall is critical to the Obama administration’s mission of creating economic growth, opportunity and widely shared prosperity.

Jill Biden is a community college English instructor and Second Lady of the United States. Tom Perez is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

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