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Alexis M. Herman
Secretary of Labor

Opening Remarks
National Skills Summit
April 11, 2000

Good morning and welcome to the first National Skills Summit.

We are immensely gratified by the reception we have received from all of you, leaders of business, labor, education and community organizations, as well as from individual workers who are here today.

This is America at her finest, when people like you, from many backgrounds, come together selflessly to confront common concerns.

I convened this Skills Summit to seek your help in confronting an unprecedented challenge our nation faces today.

President Clinton commented recently that it is not only in times of adversity that we are challenged.

Prosperity, too, can test us.

As Chairman Greenspan noted at the White House last week, today's economy - with its record length of expansion, its far stronger than expected economic growth, and its subdued inflation despite the tightest labor markets in a generation -- is without precedent.

We are in uncharted territory. The very fact of four percent unemployment creates new challenges.

Where, in today's rapidly shrinking pool of available workers, are we to find the new talent we urgently need for continued growth?

Most urgently, where are we to find the skilled workers we need?

Because, as I have often said, we do not have a worker shortage, we have a skills shortage.

There is an important difference.

To say there is a worker shortage is to say the people we need don't exist.

But they do exist. I have met them and so have you. They are people who have bills to pay, children to raise, and dreams to pursue, just as you and I do.

What they lack are the skills demanded by today's economy.

Some of them are young people who left school without a skill.

Some are workers whose factory has closed, or whose company has switched to a new technology.

Some are coming off welfare, or are Americans with disabilities.

All of them must be brought into the mainstream of our information-based economy, where what you know determines how far you go.

But how are we to impart skills to all those who need them?

Both the President and Vice President believe that the federal government cannot and should not solve every problem. That is why the Clinton-Gore Administration has so often entered into partnerships with others - leaders like you - who share our commitment to a better America.

We know that corporations, unions, community organizations, foundations and educational institutions have often joined forces. You have invested significant resources not only in providing training but in making sure there is a job waiting for the trainees at the end of the day.

All of you here today represent a vast amount of experience and creativity and good will, and we want to leverage those priceless resources for the benefit of all America.

We will hear today about many innovative strategies that you and others have employed.

We will discuss what works and what doesn't, and how problems can be overcome. We will focus on best practices and new strategies to find and train the skilled workers our nation needs.

Some innovative programs we have identified are described in the best-practices booklet you have been given, and others will be included in the book we will prepare as a follow-up to this meeting.

And speaking of innovations, it is my pleasure to report to you on the signing just a few minutes ago of a new agreement between the Department of Labor and the U.S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.

The three services have come together to certify the National Apprenticeship Standards. They will register 107 military occupation specialties under standards recognized by the Department of Labor. We will work together to ensure that private sector employers recognize these standards. This will speed the transition of tens of thousands of skilled military personnel into civilian employment.

My thanks and congratulations to the Navy, the Marines and the Coast Guard for this innovative strategy that will benefit both their personnel and our national economy. It is truly in the national interest.

We have a busy day ahead and many outstanding guests. I'm so pleased that my old friend, former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, is here from the University of Texas.

And we are honored that Chairman Greenspan will be our keynote speaker.

We also have with us a number of workers who will describe their experiences with the realities of today's economy. I thank you for being here. You are what this gathering is all about.

These workers may help us knock down some stereotypes about those who are not employed. So will some figures the Department of Labor compiled on the more than 13 million Americans who were not working last year - those who are looking for work, those who are not looking but want to work, and those who are working part-time but want a full-time job.

I hope we'll learn more today about these potential workers and how they can be brought into the workforce. Because we need them just as much as they need us.

Let me say in closing that I believe in the American Dream -- I have lived it -- but that dream is tarnished when millions of our fellow citizens still live in the shadows, excluded from the sunshine of today's prosperity.

So let this be the start of a new national partnership in which we join hands to make the promise of America the practice of America.

Thank you and God bless you.

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