Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for the Honorable Hilda L. Solis
Clinton Global Initiative
"Credentials in the 21st Century Job Market"
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Thank you, Wendy, for that kind introduction and for the Joyce Foundation's policy leadership on credentialing. My staff is watching your experiment in the Great Lakes Region with great interest, and we look forward to working together.
I was delighted when I saw that CGI, in its wisdom, dedicated an entire workshop to this issue, and I was even more excited when I looked over the participant list. Talk about impressive credentials… We've got a wonderful group here today, including all the key stakeholder groups who matter on this issue:
From Fortune 500 companies to small tech start-ups; community college presidents to MIT leaders; federal officials to municipal leaders; training providers to members of local workforce boards; and NGOs and community groups who work with job-seekers from all walks of life: from returning service members to returning citizens who are coming back into society after incarceration. It really doesn't matter where you've been or where you want to go, because you're not likely to get far in the current job market without the right training and credentials. That's why the Department of Labor is focused like a laser on this issue.
It's a core part of my Employment and Training Administration's mission, and we have some of the best minds in our agency working on credentialing American job seekers. So I want to use my time today to share some numbers on the challenge before us and talk about some of the work we're doing to help prepare Americans for 21st century career pathways.
I want to start with two numbers that I talk about a lot: 8.2 and 3.7 million. Can anyone guess the relevance of these two figures to our current labor market?
Well, 8.2 percent is our national unemployment rate. That's a lot better than our 10 percent unemployment rate in the first autumn of this administration as we worked to prevent a Great Depression, but we still have a lot of work to do to bring that number down to where it needs to be.
Now, how about 3.7 million? What's the relevance of that number to our job market? That's the number of unfilled job openings that exist right now in communities across the country. Think about that. There are more than 12 million people looking for work in this country, and 3.7 million jobs that we haven't been able to fill.
Those two numbers, taken together, have caused a lot of folks to scratch their heads. With so many people looking for work, American employers have millions of jobs they can't fill. That should be a wake-up call to all of us about the "skills mismatch" that exists right now in America.
We have to change that. We have to go beyond white papers and pilot projects and spread the gospel to every unemployed American: Employment credentials are not a luxury in 2012; they're a necessity. So our mission is clear: We have to do more to help Americans access the specific training that local employers are looking for.
Our Bureau of Labor Statistics has crunched the numbers. We looked at a 10-year period from 2008 to 2018, and we found that that 21 of the 30 fastest growing occupations will require a postsecondary certificate or degree. By 2018, 30 million new and replacement jobs will require some postsecondary education.
But as of last summer, fully half of all unemployed adults lacked any type of degree or certificate. So President Obama has laid down a challenge to all of us. He wants the United States to lead the world in the percentage of citizens with industry-recognized credentials by 2020.
But we have our work cut out for us: According to the OEOC, if current trends continue, the next generation of American workers will be less educated than the previous generation for the first time in the country's history. So it's essential that we build a foundation for growth, and that starts with matching what's taught in the classroom with the needs of employers—both on the office floor and the factory floor.
We know that a four-year education is out of reach of many of our unemployed. So we've put a greater focus on helping job-seekers obtain credentials that can be earned in as little as six months to two years, whether that's an associate's degree, a license or a certificate.
Credentials mean higher earnings, greater mobility and enhanced job security. According to one recent study, workers with an associate's degree earn 33 percent more than workers with only a high school diploma or GED. Workers with a bachelor's degree earn 62 percent more.
Not all credentials carry equal weight in the labor market, and some require far more investments of time and resources than others. So we've been building the capacity of our nearly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers to help facilitate this process.
But this isn't a one-off exercise. We have to be strategic about where we send job-seekers for training. So we're first asking some important questions before we make those referrals. Questions like: Is an entrance examination required? Is there a standard amount of work experience or internship time required? And is the credential part of a larger career pathway model that provides opportunities to continue developing their skills?
DOL has set the goal to increase credential attainment by 10 percent by September 2013. To succeed, we need your help. We are working hard to align federal, local and regional policies to boost enrollment in credentialing programs. Last December, we crossed a major milestone. We aggregated the largest amount of data on credentials and have indicated those that have been endorsed by third-party industry associations, and we've put it on two websites: MySkillsMyFuture.org and MyNextMove.org.
If you haven't visited these sites, we hope you will spend some time surfing them. They are a work in progress, and we really want your input as we build and refine them. These are user-friendly resources that help job-seekers figure out the career pathway that's right for them.
MySkillsMyFuture.org helps laid-off workers and other career changers find new occupations to explore based on transferable skills they've gained in past jobs.
MyNextMove.org is especially helpful for young people, for those with limited English proficiency and for those without any post-secondary education. It asks job-seekers to fill out an online questionnaire to identify their career interests. Then it suggests different employment paths that might make sense.
Both sites recommend apprenticeship programs and certificate programs in a job-seeker's own home town. For any occupation, users can click to view information for short- and long-term training programs at community colleges, four-year colleges, and other schools. Users can find programs by state or zip code. The site also includesdetails on occupational licenses, certifications and apprenticeships that are required for different occupations.
We hope you will help us publicize these tools and help us build and improve them. We're asking employers to work with our Employment and Training Administration to let them know what credentials you require for different jobs. Our vision for these sites is for them to become a comprehensive national resource for credential attainment. So please partner with us to build America's high-skilled, world-class workforce.
We're working on multiple fronts on this issue. We're working with community colleges, vocational technical schools, and state workforce agencies through grants and technical assistance. We're working to create best practices that will guide our grant-making. We're working with employers to ensure that credentials are industry-recognized and portable to different locations across the country.
And we're working to ensure that credentials are "stackable," so workers can build their qualifications over time by acquiring new credentials that help them move along a career pathway to higher paying jobs.
I want to close today by talking about the role of community colleges in our work. DOL has already awarded $500 million under our TAA Community College grant program to provide pathways to high-skilled jobs in high-growth industries. We will be awarding an additional $1.5 billion over the next three years. Our community college investments are driven by the realities of globalization.
Growing foreign competition means that many lower-skilled jobs are being replaced by positions that require specialized training. I talk a lot as Labor Secretary about training up our STEM workforce in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. We project one million new job openings in these fields over the next decade. America needs more scientists, more engineers, more researchers and more technicians.
On average, those who study a STEM field in college will make a half-million dollars more over their lifetimes than people in other majors. So that's a powerful incentive for us to invest in our 21st century workforce.
I recently toured some of our community college partners with Dr. Jill Biden on a three-day bus tour. At one stop, we went to Roane State Community College outside of Oak Ridge National Lab in rural Tennessee. Some of the brightest minds in the country are hard at work creating a low-density carbon fiber that could replace steel in everything from airplanes to automobiles to wind turbines.
I held a steel rod on one hand and the carbon fiber in the other. It was like holding a brick and a feather. If we can make this commercially viable, we could make huge strides in fuel efficiency and further reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and it's the talented faculty at Roane State that is training up local workers in the Cumberland Plateau. They're helping them get the credentials they need to operate the complex machinery in this lab.
If they succeed, they will help preserve our planet, save consumers a fortune on fuel costs, and put local residents back to work. This is a rural Southern area with a high unemployment rate, but our work can transform the Tennessee Valley a global leader in a cutting-edge field. So that's just one example of the potential we have here.
So I'll conclude with that and thank you all again for your commitment to put Americans back to work