CEI Blog: Skilled Workforce

For more information, contact: Mike Siegel, (202) 225-2506

The greatest Community Empowerment Initiative (CEI) is ensuring that people have the skills necessary to secure meaningful employment that leads to financial independence and the ability to pursue happiness. As I like to say, college is a fine choice, but it’s not for everyone.  And, letting young people know that great opportunities don’t always require a four-year degree is something I take seriously. 

That message is one idea that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle agree on, and I am fortunate to have Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) as my partner in promoting the skilled trades as a viable path toward success. 

Rep. Lawrence, a Democrat who represents parts of Detroit and its immediate suburbs, and I are the Co-Chairs of the Skilled Workforce Caucus. When we formed this caucus, one of our main goals was making sure that we could highlight the good work being done in our local communities and the opportunities being created in the skilled trades. The hope is, like all of my Community Empowerment Initiatives, we can identify programs that work and are inspiring change and overall community development.

Our Caucus is accomplishing this in two ways. First, Rep. Lawrence and I have visited organizations around the country to hear from private industry groups and non-profit organizations excelling at training individuals in the skilled trades or who heavily recruit individuals to fill jobs in the skilled trades. Second, she and I have sought to promote skilled trades by inviting influencers to Capitol Hill to educate our colleagues and their staff members.  So far, we have held two great discussions, inviting local legislators – like Arkansas Senator Jane English, who is an active contributor in working on this issue in Arkansas –non-profits, and businesses of all sizes who need skilled workers in order to maintain their successful operations.

We also did an exchange to Michigan and Arkansas to meet with leaders in skilled trades development. In October 2015, Rep. Lawrence welcomed me to Detroit, where one stop on our skilled trades tour was to DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital. There, we met with Mike Hamilton, a radiologic technologist who had no college education and previously worked in construction for 16 years before being laid off. Despite falling on hard times, Mike was able to maintain stability for his family by taking the necessary steps to train to be an x-ray technician.

In May 2016, Rep. Lawrence joined me in Arkansas to visit Arkansas State University’s Beebe campus, where they have partnered with John Deere to create an Agriculture Technician training program. We visited Maverick Trucking, where we drove the truck driving simulator. We also stopped by the mobile workshop of the Arkansas State Chamber’s “Be Pro. Be Proud” Initiative, aimed at changing the conversation around skilled professions for middle school and high school students and their parents.  "Be Pro. Be Proud" shows our young people all the skilled trades available in our economy and the lifetime of quality pay and benefits that exist as well. After lunch with Central Arkansas industry leaders, we headed over to Dassault Falcon Jet’s Completion Facility in Little Rock. Dassault, through its partnership with Pulaski Technical College and Goodwill Industries of Arkansas, has developed a program called “Almost Qualified.” Almost Qualified provides students with the aerospace training and certification for an apprentice-level position at Dassault that has the potential to lead to a permanent position.

Through all of our work so far, one of the best summaries of the challenges facing those of us who are actively promoting skilled trades came from Mike Hamilton. As Mike told us that day, these opportunities do exist, but often times they go unnoticed. In order to over come this, we need to not only effectively highlight that these opportunities exist but that they are in aspirational fields like medicine and can provide people with a chance to achieve the financial independence that comes with a rewarding career. 

We are seeing good strides being made in addressing that challenge. Programs like the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation’s Expect More Arkansas, which is working to ensure that every Arkansan has access to a career providing family-supporting wages, is a great example of this. We are always in search of learning about new programs that excel in promoting skilled trades, and I encourage you to let Rep. Lawrence and me know about your experiences in the skilled trades or of any organizations you know that are effectively promoting this message. You can do this by reaching out to me via email (French.Hill@mail.house.gov) or on Facebook.

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