The Community College of Allegheny County’s mechatronics program trains students to work in high-tech manufacturing jobs, and President Barack Obama said Wednesday it’s the kind of program that should be available nationwide.
“What we want to do is we want to replicate your model across the country,” Obama said. “You’re doing something right that is making a difference in people’s lives, and we want to spread the word.”
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were at CCAC’s West Hills Center campus in Oakdale to announce system-wide reforms of federal job training programs.
Through executive action, Obama has pledged $500 million in existing funds to reward community colleges that work with businesses to train students for jobs available now. Another $100 million will go to apprenticeship programs that help students to “learn while they earn.” A third initiative will allow veterans to use GI Bill benefits for apprenticeships.
“Train Americans with the skills employers need, not something that looks good on paper but doesn’t get you a job,” Obama said. “Find out what are the jobs that need to be filled, and make sure folks are being trained and matched to those jobs.”
Obama called this a “job-driven approach” to education, lamenting the fact that many students finish a four-year degree and then are unable to finds jobs in their fields.
“Students, when they go to a community college, they go to a four year university, they’re taking on debt. They’re straining their budgets,” Obama said. “We’ve got to make sure that it pays off for them. We need to take a job-driven approach, and that’s what you’re doing here in Allegheny County.”
Obama said he chose the Pittsburgh area for his speech because of its reputation as a hub of innovation.
“There’s been great progress in this area,” he said. “You’ve earned a great nickname, 'Roboburgh,' because you’ve got high-tech plants and workplaces that are adding jobs faster than workers can fill them.”
Obama also acknowledged business, union and nonprofit efforts to expand apprenticeship programs, including North America’s Building Trades Unions, which say they’ll add 25,000 apprentice positions over the next five years. The United Auto Workers, in cooperation with Ford, General Motors, and other companies, have pledged to add almost 2,000 apprenticeships; UPS has promised another 2,000 new apprenticeships.