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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks for the Honorable Hilda L. Solis
National Association of Workforce Boards
Washington, D.C.,
Monday, March 12, 2012

Good morning and hello, everybody. Buenos dias. Thank you for that warm welcome. And thank you, Monte for that kind introduction. I'd like to begin by thanking Lori and your board members, and your executive director Ron Painter for inviting me to speak this morning. It's great to be here.

And to everyone in this room — business leaders, workforce board leaders, all partners in the public workforce system — thank you for your good work every day on behalf of working families. You have tough jobs, and I know it's not been easy. This recovery has stretched your resources and filled your one stops. But even in the toughest of times — sometimes against all odds — you continue to step up to the plate.

I know it's because you care deeply about the people in your communities — and about the future of our country. President Obama knows, too. We know that your work is critical to a continued and sustained economic recovery.

Already we've made tremendous progress. On Friday I reported that the economy added more than 227,000 jobs last month. The auto industry continued to soar back adding manufacturing jobs. We've now had 24 straight months of private sector job growth, and added more than 3.9 million jobs since President Obama took office.

So these are encouraging numbers, but we've still got a lot of work to do; 12.8 million Americans remain unemployed. And we need your help to make sure every single person in every community is thriving again.

That's why President Obama has carved out a critical role for the public workforce system in creating an "America Built to Last" — an America where everyone gets a fair shot at success and the skills they need to get ahead.

We recognize that you are a critical element in our economic recovery. The President's budget is a clear indication of his continued commitment to job training programs. The President had a lot of tough decisions to make in putting together this budget, but he believes that if we're serious about meeting the challenges of a 21st century economy, and if the promise of America is to be realized for everyone, it's going to happen with job training — and with all of you.

You play such a crucial role. In so many ways, you're the advocates for your communities and hometowns. You're advocates for local businesses and their needs. You're committed to getting them the skilled workforce that will help them stay competitive in the global economy.

But you're also advocates for the local workforce board and what it has to offer. You understand that in order for every community to thrive, we need to help get every job seeker a job that provides sustainable wages or puts them on a pathway to that good job. And you're the link. Perhaps better than anyone else, you know the local landscape. Sometimes you're even the deciding factor of when and where a company sets up shop. Companies trust your opinion, so they listen to what you have to say.

That's certainly the case in Wytheville, Virginia, and one of their biggest employers, Gatorade. I visited this small town recently on my community college bus tour with Dr. Jill Biden. We traveled across five states to see firsthand these community college partnerships at work. And we were delighted to see that the local workforce system was a valuable partner in the amazing training these colleges are providing.

In Virginia, the workforce board was instrumental in getting Gatorade to build a production facility in Wytheville. Working with the college, the board developed a partnership model that works and created a prototype for the nation. Every new hire at Gatorade can take courses at the college to further their development as an employee, or to establish a career ladder to move up the ranks. Hundreds of employees are going gone through training at the college — at no cost, thanks to Gatorade.

These kinds of partnerships are being fostered by local workforce boards all over the country. We've seen it in Bridgeport, Conn., where the local One-Stop Career Center raised private sector money to put long-term unemployed workers back to work. In North Carolina, SIEMENS created a customized web tool so that jobseekers could learn about openings, take an assessment and apply online. And the President has been talking a lot about Master Lock and the partnerships they're growing to bring good manufacturing jobs back home from overseas. We call it "insourcing."

Investments in advanced manufacturing and clean energy industries are also important centerpieces of the President's vision for an "America Built to Last." But these investments need to be matched with a competent and skilled workforce, and your efforts are critical to making sure that American workers are prepared today for the jobs of tomorrow. So please know that we fully support you — and that this President and I are behind you.

I know that for some in Washington it's easy to write the public workforce system as simply another budget item. For some it's easy to forget just how important the system is. The fact is the system depends on all of you — talented professionals who are working every day, providing services and delivering results that American workers and businesses want to see.

We're going to continue to do everything we can to help you create economic growth at the local level. This means working to ensure that the workforce system remains flexible in responding to the needs of the local workforce. We need to make sure that training stays accessible to those who need it the most.

So many people in vulnerable communities have been out of work for way too long. We can't forget about them. That's why we're continuing to push for WIA reauthorization. Unfortunately it's stuck in partisan gridlock, but President Obama has been clear that where Congress chooses not to act, we will. We can't wait until the next election to make critical investments in our workforce. We need to strengthen partnerships within our adult literacy and TANF initiatives so every adult with low literacy is getting vocational training while they learn to read and write. We need to invest in more programs that serve our at-risk and disconnected youth. And we need to do more for our returning veterans to get them into good jobs when they come home. We remain committed to all of these things at the Department of Labor.

Last year, we took My Next Move — our online job search tool — to a new level for veterans. Veterans can now enter their military occupational code and "translate" it into a civilian job category. The site includes information about job opportunities, salaries, apprenticeships and local institutions that provide skills training local employers require.

We're also very proud to have developed the veterans "Gold Card." This card provides recent Veterans with six months of intensive job counseling and personalized case management services at one of our One-Stop Career Centers. These services include career assessments, direct referrals to open jobs, interview coaching, resume assistance and training referrals. We're very proud of our efforts to support veterans and their families.

We've also done a lot in the form of grant competitions to support our disconnected youth and other vulnerable communities. We currently have a couple of open grant competitions that I want to tell you about.

Last Wednesday, I announced nearly $75 million for our YouthBuild grant competition. Many of you are familiar with this program that provides skills training to at-risk, underserved youth. We've expanded it to include training in health care, IT and construction. Our Reintegration of Ex-Offenders or "REXO" grant competition is also still open. This funding will help former inmates receive skills development, counseling, resume-writing assistance and other support services to help them find jobs. Additionally, I know that many of the communities you all represent were affected by tragic natural disasters last week. Please know that we are here for you with our National Emergency Grants should you need to take advantage of them when unexpected emergencies occur.

Lastly, I wanted to take a moment to talk about our push for summer youth jobs. You all know about the value of summer youth jobs and the very real impact they have in your communities. As you may know, President Obama has put the full weight of the White House on this effort with the launch of Summer Jobs Plus.

We've already secured commitments to create 180,000 summer jobs from our partners, but we need more summer slots. We need your help to make sure every young person who wants a job this summer can get one. We need you to encourage your mayors to make the commitment and join summer jobs plus. I would ask all the employers in the room to make their commitment and sign on to this initiative today. You can also get involved online. Very soon we'll be launching a Summer Jobs Plus Bank. This is an online search tool that's being built with help from Google, AfterCollege, LinkedIn and Internships.com. It will allow young people to see who's hiring locally.

We hope you'll encourage both the members of your boards and local employers to post their summer jobs into the national directory. The job bank will allow you to see the corporations that have made commitments in other cities as well. There's no one better suited than you and the one-stops to get workers ready for interviews and into good jobs. So I hope you will join me in helping to make summer youth jobs more available this summer.

We're doing a lot at the Department of Labor — in many cases because we work with terrific groups like this one. But we've got to do more to make sure that every person in every community gets their shot at success. That's why I'm so glad to have your support in our corner, and your advocacy on our side. Thank you again for all that you do, and thank you for continuing to work alongside us as we continue to help put Americans back to work. Have a wonderful conference.