Obama, Biden visit to CCAC West will center on job training grants

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WASHINGTON – The White House is refocusing a $500 million grant program on job training programs that involve partnerships with regional employers, and the effort begins today in North Fayette.

That’s where President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are headed this afternoon to lay out revised criteria for the Trade Adjustment Assistance and Community College and Career Training competitive grant program. Grants have helped community colleges prepare dislocated workers for jobs available in their regional economies.

At the Community College of Allegheny Count West Hills Center, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden also are expected to announce $100 million in new grants for industry apprenticeships. Funding would come from fees employers pay for H1-B visas, which allow highly skilled foreigners to work in the United States. Those fees typically go to other one-time expenditures that support job-training programs to prepare American workers for jobs eligible to be filled by H1-B visa holders.

Today’s visit is closed to the public. Classes are canceled, and fliers posted on campus advise students to stay away from West Hills Center today.

The college was selected to host the event partly because the White House wanted to recognize its industrial maintenance program that trains students to repair and make parts for complex machinery.

The college also is in the Pittsburgh region, a White House spokesman said, and it is building a skilled workforce through job-driven training programs and industry partnerships. New Century Careers is one example, he said.

The nonprofit workforce development consortium “is a leading example of how employers can come together to develop apprenticeship programs that ensure workers have the skills they need to succeed,” the spokesman said in a written statement.

Earlier Tuesday, several top White House officials met with reporters to explain the grant initiatives.

The aim of both grant programs is to create a “collaborative ecosystem” between community colleges, universities, individual employers and industry associations, they said.

“Given the pace of technology and innovation in the economy, business-to-business workforce needs are constantly changing, and that makes it difficult for educational institutions to keep up with what skills are in demand at the moment and what skills are going to be in demand three, four, five years down the road,” one high-ranking official said.

The reprioritization means successful applicants will need to show a direct correlation between their funding requests and job placement, officials said. Some programs that have been funded in the past, such as remedial education courses, could have a harder time winning approval.

But White House officials said many past grantees already were providing job training in partnership with local employers. It is partly their success that led the administration to focus on job training – only now with a broader emphasis on industry skills that are transferrable across the country, not just to one specific local employer.

The Community College of Allegheny County has been a partner in a past collaboration funded through the 3-year-old Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program.

Last year, CCAC along with Pennsylvania’s other community colleges, received $20 million to deliver workforce training to laid-off workers with little chance of returning to earlier wage levels without attaining new skills.

“Some of the community colleges have used the money in past rounds to do some of the things we’re talking about but others have used it for remediation,” one top White House official said. Under the new criteria they will have to use it to “actually make the endpoint of someone being able to get a job and a career,” he said.

The TAA-CCCT grant application window opens today and closes July 7. Applications for apprenticeship grants will be accepted beginning in the fall.

The president has been talking about reprioritizing federal job-training programs since his State of the Union address in January when he committed to “concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.”

That would mean more apprenticeships and more partnerships between companies and community colleges that can fulfill specific needs, the president has said.

Under changes expected to be announced today, apprenticeship grants will be directed toward programs aligned with career advancement in high-growth fields and that offer credits transferrable to four-year universities.

“In order for this to work, industry has to come together,” one top administration official said. “You could get in as an individual employer and get [a community college to offer] a course for 15 welders but that doesn’t solve the problem of getting trade welders over time. … This is about the industry saying ‘We’ll accept this kind of training and we know this kind of training is going to deliver us the workers that have the kind of credentials we need.”

The natural gas industry, for one, is eager to participate, Stephanie Wissman, director of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, said in an interview. Drilling companies have trouble finding workers with the skill sets they need, she said. The administration’s new focus on job training could help, she said.

Staff writer Mark Belko contributed. Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.

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