Wednesday, August 6, 2008

AFL-CIO Seeks National Commitment To Train High-Skilled Workers

Afl BNA's Daily Labor Report (subscription required) is reporting on a new resolution by the AFL-CIO Executive Council seeking a national educational policy that would train and support workers for high-skilled careers.  According to the DLR:

Pointing out that continuing job losses, rapid technological change, global competition, and stagnating wages and benefits are causing anxiety and uncertainty for today's workers and their families, the executive council said the United States needs a "cohesive national strategy that links substantial investment in job creation to an improved educational system and significant public resources directed toward skill development programs." . . . [International Association of Machinists President Tom] Buffenbarger said the United States today has given up on vocational training and there is no way for a significant portion of the population who wants to "work with their hands" to obtain training. He added that this is a huge problem because employers are having trouble finding enough skilled workers in the United States and are seeking workers from foreign countries because they are trained. . . .

 The AFL-CIO statement calls for a number of actions at the national level including:

    a national commitment to providing students with the basic skills and knowledge needed to further their education; 

    a national commitment to providing all Americans with access to post-secondary education including a vocational credential or industry certification that is financed through expanding funding for the Pell grant program and making that program more accessible to working adults and dislocated workers. This also should include expanding funding for apprecticeship programs and other workforce training and certification programs; 

    investment in sectors that are important to the national interest such as infrastructure, defense, green technology, aerospace, renewable energy, education and health care; and 

    improvement of coordination among the often isolated efforts of states, employers, unions, post-secondary institutions, and public schools.

 One component also calls for the government to assist employers and unions in developing programs for subsidized onsite learning representatives who can help employees with career counseling and access to training needs. According to [Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers] this component is based on a similar program in England, where by law, unions have a training representative at the worksite to help workers who do not want to let their employers know they need more training. Some American companies such as Caterpillar Inc. already do this in the United Kingdom.

I completely agree that the U.S. must compete in the global labor market not by emphasizing cheap labor--a competition the U.S. will never win--but by emphasizing its skilled workforce.  One thing I find interesting in this move is the AFL-CIO's call for the government to take the lead.  It could, instead, try to market its services by establishing such training on its own--although, perhaps the union should be credited with seeking action that would benefit a much larger number of workers.


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