By Justin Sink
President Obama and Vice President Biden took what the president dubbed "a guy's trip" to western Pennsylvania on Wednesday, as the White House looked to refocus attention on the president's economic agenda.
During a stop at a local community college, Obama announced $600 million in government training initiatives designed to help workers find jobs.
"We want a seamless progression from community college programs to industry-recognized credentials and credit towards a college degree," Obama said.
The president looked to draw a contrast with "some folks" in Washington who have stymied his economic agenda, with his budget proposals and stimulus plans earning little momentum on Capitol Hill. But despite a series of events focusing on his economic messaging, the White House has so far failed to gain traction on his policy proposals.
Obama acknowledged he and Biden "sometimes sound like a broken record" as they discuss their economic proposals.
But, the president argued, it was "more urgent now than ever that we push forward" because of how the job market was changing.
"We can't stop technology, and you've got a global economy now where you've got to compete," Obama said.
The community college programs that receive federal dollars will train students to earn industry-recognized credentials — like networking certifications for information technology workers — that are transferable between jobs in a given field.
A senior administration official said such programs create a "straightforward path" for prospective employees, because those making hiring decisions could see and validate explicitly what qualifications candidates had.
The White House will also use fees from the H1-B visa program to sponsor apprenticeships in emerging fields where employers are struggling to find qualified candidates, including IT, healthcare and advanced manufacturing.
Biden said he was "tired of hearing all this stuff about how American workers weren't as productive."
"Independent studies show American workers are three times as productive as workers in China," the vice president said. "We want China to do well, but we have the best workers in the world."
House Republicans dismissed the president's event, noting that the federal government already had dozens of sometimes overlapping jobs training programs. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), used the occasion to call for the Senate to move on a House bill that would consolidate some of those federal programs.
“When it comes to skills training, our first priority should be reforming our current, outdated maze of programs so that they make sense for people in today’s dynamic economy," Buck said. "That’s why the House has passed the SKILLS Act, and we urge the president to work with us to get a bipartisan bill to his desk."
Before speaking, Obama and Biden met with students at the community college who showed off their work in a "mechatronics" course where they learn how to operate mechanical systems through electronics. Two students showed Obama and Biden a motor control system that simulated a garage door opener.
"We're lawyers, we barely understand garage door openers," Obama quipped.