Obama to spotlight job training push

President Obama will order an across-the-board review of federal job training programs during a trip to a Wisconsin energy factory on Thursday, the latest in a series of campaign-style events designed to highlight executive actions announced during the State of the Union.

The president’s executive order will direct Vice President Biden to examine how to best reform federal job training programs designed to help American workers learn the skills they need for in-demand jobs. Obama will also announce a competition for a half-billion dollars in federal grants for community colleges to partner with outside employers.

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The president will speak at an General Electric engine factory outside of Milwaukee. The company is part of a regional workforce consortium — along with labor unions and nearby colleges — designed to train students in advanced manufacturing and construction techniques. Some students who participate in the program, which includes classroom training and job shadowing, are offered jobs working for the factory.

The symbolic trip follows visits to a Costco store in suburban Maryland and a steel factory in western Pennsylvania on Wednesday, where Obama also sought to rally support behind proposals he first outlined in his national address. 

At Costco, Obama touted his order to force federal contractors to pay their employees more than $10 per hour. He pointed to the warehouse retailer — which starts employees’ hourly wages at $11.50 per hour — to argue that other corporations should do the same, and that Congress should adopt a more generous minimum wage for all workers.

At the steel plant outside Pittsburgh, Obama signed a presidential memorandum establishing new “starter” retirement accounts for poor and middle class workers. The program requires a small initial investment and is backed by the U.S. government. 

The trips are designed to give the perception of presidential action following a year that saw Obama frustrated by the bungled rollout of his signature healthcare law and Congress unwilling to move on his proposed gun control legislation or extension of emergency unemployment benefits. But they’re also designed to help congressional Democrats ahead of the midterm elections this fall by promoting a populist economic agenda and boosting the president’s standing.

Still, Republicans criticized the president’s push as little more than window dressing in an election year. A GOP leadership aide on Wednesday noted that the Government Accountability Office had already completed a comprehensive view of the job training programs spread across government agencies.

The aide said that House Republicans had already proposed legislation that would reform, consolidate and reorganize the 47 separate programs in a way that better helps those looking to get back to work.

Later Thursday afternoon, Obama is expected to travel to Nashville, where he’ll give remarks at a high school where the curriculum has been altered to include greater vocational training. High schools in the city partner with more than 250 companies, who develop educational programs across fields including health science, design, aviation, and hospitality.

“We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career,” Obama said in his speech Tuesday night.

Unclear is whether Obama will discuss the arrest Tuesday of a 17-year-old sophomore at the school, accused of shooting and killing a 15-year-old fellow student. 

While Obama made a strong push for gun control in his 2013 State of the Union address, he said he would advance gun control measures “with or without Congress.”

"Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day," Obama said. "I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say 'we are not afraid,' and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”