Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Dr. Jill Biden at the Institute for Career Development’s 2014 National Conference
Hi, everyone. It is wonderful to be here with you in New Orleans.
Thank you Pete for that kind introduction, and it is great to see you again. As Pete said, we first met two years ago when I toured Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana.
It is an honor to be invited here today by Tom Snyder, President of Ivy Tech, and Leo Gerard, President of the Steelworkers—they have both been such good friends to Joe and me.
I also want to congratulate Al Long for organizing the Institute for Career Development’s 20th National Conference—this conference is an incredible tribute to Lynn Williams’ lifelong efforts to build a better world. So, thank you Al for all of your hard work.
I am honored to be here with all of you to discuss such an important topic—ensuring American workers have the education they need to secure good paying jobs to support their families.
This is an important topic for all workers, no matter what country you live in. I just returned from a trip to Switzerland where I spoke at an international conference on higher education and job-training programs and I had the opportunity to tour a manufacturing plant that invests in quality job-training. I learned that we all share the same challenges and opportunities. And leaders from all across the world are trying to figure out how to best prepare workers for the intense competition of the 21st century economy.
Equipping American workers with the skills they need to succeed in the global economy, is a top priority for President Obama and my husband Joe, the Vice President.
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 to always 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 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.
I have always said that community colleges are one of America’s best-kept secrets. They give people the tools they need to grow in a career they love.
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 through seven cities in five states, visiting some amazing, talented students, teachers and local leaders. And at every stop, what I saw was exciting and inspiring.
Rather than tell you about the road trip, I want to show it to you.
Since then, I have continued to visit colleges across the United States to lift up these incredible programs and the people whose lives they change with our new Labor Secretary.
At one of the stops, I had the opportunity to visit Ivy Tech to learn more about the great partnership between the school and the steel industry. That is where I met Janice and Kevin, both of whom were part of the Steelworker for the Future program.
Janice lost her job in 2008 during the worst recession since the great depression. It was a challenging time for a lot of Americans, but Janice did not give up hope. She went back to school, earned a degree in industrial technology, and was hired by U.S. Steel even before graduating from Ivy Tech.
Kevin went back to school at the age of 39. He enrolled at Ivy Tech, did an internship with ArcelorMittal, and where upon graduation he was immediately hired full time as a maintenance mechanic.
I was also impressed by an enterprising senior at Whiting High School, named Benjamin who was part of the High School Steelworker Program, which gives high school students the chance to receive college credits for classes they take in industrial technology. Benjamin earned 38 credits from Ivy Tech before graduating high school, and he was well on his way to realizing his goal of becoming a chemical engineer.
Whether it is workers like Janice and Kevin returning to the classroom to retool their skills for the jobs of today, or aspiring students like Benjamin who are receiving hands-on experience for the jobs of tomorrow, the training they receive at Ivy Tech is exactly what we need to replicate around the country to build the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world.
The Obama-Biden Administration is doing its part to expand job-driven training programs so students and workers can acquire the education and skills they need to move into jobs that already exist in their communities. By the end of this year, we will have invested nearly $2 billion into strengthening the partnership between community colleges, employers and the public workforce system to create pipelines of skilled workers. Building those partnerships is essential to growing the economy, strengthening the workforce, and creating opportunities for working class families in the 21st century economy.
This all goes back to the fundamental belief of this administration—if you are ready to work, you should be able to find a job that fits your skills, or get trained with the skills you need for a better job.
It all starts with you. You have been doing this for 25 years and you are the best at what you do. But Lynn Williams would be the first to say, there is more work to be done—and there is always more work to be done.
We must break down common misconceptions, and shine a brighter light on what modern job-training education looks like. We must lift up successful programs—like those offered through the Institute for Career Development—to match Americans who are ready to learn new skills, and who are ready to work, with good jobs that need to be filled right now. Career pathway programs work for Steelworkers, and they can work for millions of more Americans.
There is tremendous opportunity in what you are doing—not just for our students and for our workers—but for our country. 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.