Skills Training Is Even More Important in Difficult Times
President Obama, in comments to the recent G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy, called upon the leaders of African countries to make their nations' economies self-supporting. While announcing a multinational relief package that includes $20 billion in food aid, the President said, "We do not view this assistance as an end in itself. We believe that the purpose of aid must be to create conditions where it's no longer needed."
The President's message to African leaders of the importance of the people of Africa becoming self-sufficient brings to mind the words of the old Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."
In an interview with AllAfrica.com, the President went on to say: "The West and the United States has not been responsible for what's happened in Zimbabwe's economy over the last 15 to 20 years." Zimbabwe was once the breadbasket of Africa; but, under the brutal dictatorship of socialist Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's economy has instead become a basket case with runaway inflation and a badly damaged agricultural sector.
What is the relevance of the President's words concerning Africa to the importance of skills training here in Texas? The principle of economic self-sufficiency - enabling people to provide for their own needs - becomes even more important in difficult economic times. That's because skills training is a powerful tool for reemployment, since it opens new occupations to those who are struggling to find jobs in their previous disciplines.
Today's skills training goes well beyond teaching someone to fish and can prepare Texans for stable, modern jobs. My fellow Commissioners and I at the Texas Workforce Commission take skills training seriously. Last year alone, more than 65,000 Texas workers received skills training in programs provided by the Texas Workforce Commission and our partners in the 28 local workforce boards. Quite simply, this allocation of funds is helping to put Texans back to work.
The high importance of skills training is directly tied to the rising relevance of technology in the workplace. When technology advances, it creates the need for a new cadre of operators, analysts, and technicians to manage the innovative new tools. Practically all career fields - from agriculture to spaceflight - are changing as they blend high-tech advancements with traditional job responsibilities.
Today's farmers don't just rise early in the morning; many also measure soil nutrient concentrations, track rainfall patterns, and manage the output of wind farms installed on their property. HVAC technicians use advanced infra-red cameras to spot energy leaks and conserve power in buildings. Doctors, nurses, and medical technicians are mastering a new generation of diagnostic instruments that combine microelectronics, computer imaging, and bioscience to improve the quality of our health care. Developments like these will power growth in the Texas economy tomorrow, but only if the demand for a skilled workforce is met today.
In these difficult economic times, we might be tempted to feel powerless. We are not. There is much we can do and indeed much we are already doing. The vision of exemplary state leaders like Governor Rick Perry and Senator Steve Ogden have made Texas a great place to do business, and we at the Texas Workforce Commission are doing our part to put Texans back to work.
Ultimately, the strength of Texas goes far beyond its chosen leaders. In a democratic republic, we get the government that we choose for ourselves. Our leaders are a reflection of our character - our aspirations, dreams, insecurities, and challenges. In the end, our leaders spring from the same well of Texan self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
Texas cities rank high in the U.S. for job postings in nearly every industry, whether for heavy equipment operators in Houston or IT specialists in the health care sector in North Texas. But we must encourage people to get the appropriate training to fill these jobs. It may seem paradoxical, but even in times of high unemployment, there are still labor shortages.
While four-year college degrees are excellent preparation for many career fields, practical skills training is also critical to meeting the dynamic demands of the modern workplace. Our Texas community colleges and proprietary institutions are doing great work in this area. Credentials certifying that students have received the training necessary for particular kinds of skilled work can connect people to many excellent jobs needed for a thriving economy. A diverse workforce schooled in both the liberal arts and practical skills training is hard to beat.
For instance, the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) has developed a curriculum for workers in tomorrow's construction industry. If you are an employer who needs a worker trained to the exacting standards of the construction industry, you can be sure that an applicant with the appropriate certificate has received the training necessary for success on the job. And if you are a high school graduate with an NCCER certificate, you can expect to earn $375,000 more over your lifetime than you would without it.
President Obama is right in his message of self-sufficiency to African nations and the President would be well advised to apply it to his domestic policy as well. As for Texas, we will take the initiative to provide for our own needs through grit and entrepreneurial determination. There is no doubt that our economic troubles are severe. It's tough out there, but by making effective skills training available to workers seeking to retrain for better careers, we are empowering Texans to take charge of their economic future.