Perez, currently assistant attorney general leading the civil rights division at the Department of Justice, has an exceptional record of public service. He brings years of leadership and the expertise required to effectively lead the department and ensure all of America’s workers have the opportunity to get the skills necessary for the jobs of today and in the future.
Despite over 12 million workers looking for work, there are over 3.5 million jobs that haven’t been filled, in part, because employers can’t find workers with the right skills. And the problem will only get worse. Over the next decade nearly half of all job openings will be middle‐skill jobs — jobs that require more than a high school diploma, but not necessarily a four‐year degree — yet this is where the skills gap is the most pronounced.
This shortage of skilled workers will impact the ability of businesses to grow. If they can’t find people to do the work, they can’t create new jobs. We need innovative solutions that partner industry, education and training providers, and other community stakeholders to provide workers with the skills industry needs.
Fortunately, Perez has the experience to bring together business, labor and others to find creative and innovative approaches to addressing critical workforce development needs. Before his current role in the Justice Department, he served as secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations (DLLR) under Governor O’Malley. He instituted reforms that strengthened Maryland’s workforce development system and laid the groundwork for current efforts underway in that state to create systemic support for industry training partnerships.
In addition, Perez has the experience to help address perhaps the greatest skills challenge facing our nation: Nearly 88 million workers lack the basic reading or math skills to succeed in postsecondary education and training programs. Perez’s experience reforming adult education prepares him to play a leadership role in working with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to align adult basic education programs with the Department of Labor’s workforce training programs. This will help ensure adult workers can receive the basic math and reading skills they need while learning technical skills that can get them on good career paths.
Perez has committed himself to public service and has a strong track record of success. He was a change agent at DLLR and that experience will serve him well as he takes the lead at the Department of Labor. His leadership will have a positive impact on our nation’s efforts to close the skills gap and ensure there is a strong commitment to training America’s workers with the skills that industry needs. President Obama selected an exceptional leader to head the Department of Labor and the Senate should swiftly confirm Thomas Perez as its next secretary.
Andy Van Kleunen is the executive director of National Skills Coalition.