President Barack Obama held out the job-training programs at Community College of Allegheny County as a national model Wednesday as he joined Vice President Joe Biden to promote the need to match education to the demands of the economy.
Their visit to CCAC's West Hills Center brought the rare sight of Air Force One and Air Force Two parked next to one another at Pittsburgh International Airport as, in the president's words, they "took a little road trip," to describe plans to refocus $600 million in federal funds on community college programs tailored to the specific needs of a region's employers.
"We're here because CCAC is an outstanding model of the kind of job-driven training we're trying to encourage all over the country," Mr. Obama told an invited audience of about 300 at the North Fayette campus.
Job training at heart of president's speech
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made an appearance at CCAC West, North Fayette, to stress the importance of job training as a means to keep the economy growing. (Video by Andrew Rush; 4/16/2014)
Flanked by the U.S. and Pennsylvania flags and standing before a banner proclaiming, "OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL," the president told the crowd gathered in the school's automotive shop that "what we want to do is replicate your model across the country. You're doing something right that is making a difference in people's lives."
Moments earlier, Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker had watched a demonstration of the work of some of the students at the center.
After listening to one student explain an electronic control system, Mr. Obama said: "This is clearly an A student. She sounds like the teacher."
He quizzed the students on employment pathways opened by their curriculum, and said: "We're just so proud of what you guys are doing. I can tell any employer will be lucky to have you."
The appearance was designed to highlight a $500 million grant program for community college efforts to focus on job training. Mr. Obama also described a related plan to target $100 million for competitive grants to encourage apprenticeship programs.
The initiatives were a sequel to a pledge in the president's State of the Union address, in which he praised such business training partnerships and charged Mr. Biden with the task of assessing the effectiveness of the broad array of current federal work force training programs.
The president noted that the programs, which will refocus funds already in the federal budget pipeline, did not depend on new action by Congress. It was one more example of the more modest initiatives the administration has turned to as a gridlocked Washington hobbles progress on more sweeping goals. The last time the Democratic president came to the region, visiting a U.S. Steel plant in January, he had offered another program that could go forward without congressional action -- a retirement savings plan for workers of modest means.
In an emailed statement, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, derided the presidential trip, along with the directive to Mr. Biden to evaluate existing jobs programs. Mr. Boehner contended that the Government Accounting Office had already conducted a similar inventory while arguing that the president could better serve job training needs by persuading a Democratic Senate to pass the Skills Act, a jobs measure supported by House Republicans.
In a briefing Tuesday, White House officials had said CCAC was selected to host the event in part to recognize its industrial maintenance program that trains students to repair and make parts for complex machinery, a specialty known as mechatronics. After his tour of the training facility, Mr. Obama confessed the term was a new one to him.
"Sounds like something Godzilla would be fighting," he joked.
After their separate arrivals at the airport, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden were greeted by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey; U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills; Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald; Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto; U.S. Attorney David Hickton; and Col. Mark Goodwill, commander of the 171st Mission Support Group, headquartered at the air base.
As they waited for the president to emerge from Air Force One, Mr. Biden served as amateur photographer, taking a group portrait of some of the local officials.
Later, as he introduced the president at the CCAC site, Mr. Biden predicted a rebirth of American manufacturing.
"But the companies, the education system, every level of government -- we need to rethink how we're helping move folks into these new opportunities," he said. "It's a different skill set that's going to be required. ... That's why the president and I are here today."
Politics editor James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562. First Published April 16, 2014 4:11 PM