Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Dr. Jill Biden at the International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Hi, everyone! Thank you Beatrice for that warm introduction.
It is so great to be here with Ambassador Suzi LeVine—we are so grateful for her service here in Switzerland.
I am pleased to be joined by the United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Eric Seleznow.
I am honored to be here with all of you at this international conference to discuss such an important topic—ensuring that students and workers have the skills they need to secure good jobs and succeed in the global economy.
This is a top priority for President Obama and my husband Joe, the Vice President of the United States.
But I am not a politician. I am not a researcher or an education policy expert. I am an English professor. I have taught in community colleges for 20 years, and still teach full-time at a community college near Washington, DC. Education is my passion.
People sometimes ask why I choose to teach at a community college. The answer is simple: It is the students.
I love being in the classroom and seeing the difference I can make in the lives of my students. My goal is always to give them confidence in their own abilities—because I know that confidence will carry them well beyond my classroom, in whatever they do.
In my classes, I find single parents who come to school in the evening, weary from a long day, yet eager to create a brighter future for their children.
I have taught veterans who return to the classroom to complete their higher education as they look to transition to civilian careers.
And I have seen workers who have gone as far as they can in their jobs—get the skills they need to reach the next level in their fields.
I know what happens in community college classrooms. It is extraordinary.
I see it over and over because the students are so committed to furthering their education—they know it is the key to a better life for themselves and their families.
Community colleges are as the name suggests—higher education institutions that are uniquely able to address the needs of their communities. They are a place where students can get the skills and education they need to succeed, and get a good-paying job to support their families.
In the United States there are almost 1,200 community colleges. They serve almost 12 million students, or nearly half of all U.S undergraduate students.
Community colleges lead the way in preparing graduates in the fields of green technology, healthcare, teaching, and information technology some of the fastest growing fields in America and the rest of the world.
In fact, half of the nurses in America are trained in community colleges.
Quite simply, these schools are providing students with an opportunity to learn the skills they need to compete in the global economy.
Two years ago, I headed out on a community-college-to-career bus tour to learn more about innovative public-private workforce partnerships led by community colleges to train students for jobs that match the needs of employers in the region.
In two days, we traveled 800 miles—or nearly 1,300 kilometers—through seven cities in five states, visiting some amazing, talented students, teachers and local leaders.
Rather than tell you about the road trip, I want to show it to you.
Since then, I have continued to tour the United States with Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.
I have always said that community colleges are one of America’s best-kept secrets. They help people get good-paying jobs, and give them the tools they need to grow in a career they love.
Today, more than 800 schools in the United States are using an innovative career training program to align curriculum with the needs of employers.
This gives students the opportunity to learn the skills they need to move into jobs that already exist in their communities.
The Obama-Biden Administration is doing its part to bolster the program and spur new partnerships. By the end of this year, we will have invested nearly $2 billion into strengthening the linkage between community colleges and employers to create pipelines of skilled workers.
As the U.S. economy continues to grow, and global competition intensifies, community colleges will become even more crucial to American prosperity.
That is why in January of this year, President Obama asked my husband Joe to lead a review of the job-training programs in the United States.
What he found is that matching ready-to-work employees to in-demand jobs works best when employers partner with educators to define needed skills, shape training programs, and invest in apprenticeships and on-the-job training.
As a result, the Administration is now taking action to make our job-training programs more effective.
And, more businesses and education systems in the U.S. are teaming up to replicate successful training strategies.
One of those strategies is increasing the opportunity for apprenticeships.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the Bühler plant in Uzwil to see firsthand the Swiss apprenticeship program.
I was impressed to learn that nearly 80 percent of apprentices continue to work at Bühler after their training, and that other companies in the region are able to take advantage of the program, creating an eco-system of high quality skilled workers.
As we look to improve job-training education in the United States, we will put a greater emphasis on apprenticeships. They are a tried-and-true workforce development global strategy.
State governments and education professionals in the United States are already learning lessons from the unique Swiss model.
For example, the California State Senate has developed a new program called the Career Pathways Trust—a $250 million competitive grant program to encourage more partnerships between schools and the private sector.
In the United States, we have 375,000 Registered Apprentices. We need to add 2.5 million more next year to compete with Great Britain and 7 million more to compete with Germany.
To get anywhere near those numbers, we need to do a better job of breaking down some common misconceptions, and shine a brighter light on what modern apprenticeships look like.
Consequently, we created the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium—a partnership among community colleges and employers that makes it possible for apprentices to transfer college credits they earn to any community college in the consortium.
Over 30 colleges and 500 apprenticeship programs have applied to join.
And this fall, we are making an historic investment of 100 million dollars to scale up programs that work, and to create new opportunities for companies to adopt this tried-and-true strategy.
Apprenticeships provide a career pathway for workers, setting them on an upward trajectory for life, and they are a great return-on-investment for employers.
They also demonstrate the benefit of sharing best practices to better prepare our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow. That is exactly what all of you are doing here.
No matter what country you live in, young people are trying to figure out where they fit into the intense competition of the global economy. And leaders are trying to figure out how to prepare the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow.
As President Obama has said, “In a 21st century economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, education is the single best bet we can make.”
We all reap the benefits when our citizens are well-educated and well-trained. It means that our economies are more vibrant and the future is brighter.