Two new secretaries visit sector partnership.

September 13, 2013

Two of the newest members of President Obama’s cabinet, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, joined House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) this week to visit Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) to hear from local business, education, government and labor leaders on the importance of training workers with the skills for the good-paying jobs businesses need to fill in order to grow. The secretaries wrote about their visit in an op-ed that appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

Anne Arundel Community College leads the National STEM Consortium, which is made up of ten community colleges in nine states. The consortium works with employers, labor unions, and industry groups to determine where there is a skills gap and then develops certificate programs that build skilled worker pipelines that meet the needs of local and regional employers. The National STEM Consortium started in 2011 through a grant from the Department of Labor.

Sector partnerships like the National STEM Consortium exist across the country; they bring together employers and other stakeholders connected to key local and regional industries to address immediate skill shortages, while developing workforce pipelines to ensure the future of that industry. Sector partnerships are effective. Workers get the skills that will lead to a good-paying job. Employers report increases in productivity, reductions in customer complaints, and declines in staff turnover, all of which reduce costs and improve the competitiveness of their companies.

It’s encouraging that both secretaries of Labor and Commerce see the value of sector partnerships. Over the past two months, Secretary Perez has visited sector partnership programs across the country and during his swearing-in ceremony he said, “We must invest in our workforce. The skills gap is an enormous barrier to opportunity, particularly in an increasingly sophisticated economy. Many partners have to be in the huddle, with the Labor Department playing quarterback and executing a game plan for a demand-driven workforce investment system that serves the needs of businesses and workers alike."

In the op-ed, Secretary Perez and Pritzker wrote, “…businesses have to be clear about their needs and help drive training by playing a role in the development of curriculum and credentialing programs, forming partnerships with educational institutions and government at all levels, and in some cases funding new training facilities. The educational providers, non-profits, labor organizations and others have to craft ways to meet those needs. When all of these entities are working together, one result is a workforce that can quickly adapt to meet needs of employers looking to thrive in the modern global economy. Another result? A thriving middle-class where anyone, no matter their background, has a chance to climb the ladder of opportunity.”

Sector partnerships are good for workers, employers and the economy. However, there is currently no dedicated federal support to create and grow these partnerships. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate, Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, which would provide federal grants to states for the creation of industry-led partnerships. This legislation is critical to growing sector partnerships similar to the National STEM Consortium.

NSC is encouraged to see that within the first two months of their appointments, Secretaries Perez and Pritzker are on the road, giving visibility to sector partnerships and encouraging businesses to get involved by leading the effort to better align skills training with the needs of local and regional industry. Doing so will enable workers to get the skills they need for good-paying jobs and businesses to get the skilled workforce they need to grow.