U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis today joined management and labor officials in the Pittsburgh area for a discussion titled "Industry, Trades & Skills," at the Community College of Allegheny County.
The forum was part of a CCAC discussion series intended to enhance the understanding and recognition of the role labor unions and labor relations have played in shaping western Pennsylvania.
Secretary Solis' keynote address focused on the impact that apprenticeship programs have had on the U.S. economy.
"Joint labor management apprenticeships have leveraged more than 750 million dollars in private sector investment," Solis said. "That's a remarkable number, and I have to brag on IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), because this union runs some of the most successful apprenticeship programs anywhere in this country."
Solis said events within her own life impacted the way she saw unions. She recalled when she was 14, how her father was a worker for the Teamsters at a bottle recycling plant. After work, he would bring home complaints and suggestions written in Spanish on little scraps of paper, and would ask Solis to translate them.
She said while she didn't comprehend what was going on at the time, she now realizes that those scraps of paper were the voices of the working class.
"I've often recalled those talks with my father, because today we're recovering from one of the greatest economic crisis since the depression, and our long term prosperity depends on working together to train new workers for the 21st century," Solis said.
Solis sees apprenticeship programs at both a national and local level as ways to train these new workers. She singled out New Century Careers, an apprenticeship program based in Pittsburgh.
"[NCC has] trained 1,000 Pennsylvanians for entry level manufacturing jobs. They've helped another 7,000 existing manufacturing employees upgrade their skills," Solis said.
Overall, Solis sees apprenticeship opportunities as key to economic revitalization.
"Apprenticeships are an incredible example of what can be achieved when the private sector the public sector and organized labor can come together," Solis said.