Obama to focus on manufacturing during trip to Virginia

President Obama on Wednesday will outline the expansion of a worker-training program intended to boost the manufacturing sector.

The Skills for America’s Future program is an industry-led initiative intended to improve partnerships with community colleges and create easier-to-understand, uniform job-training requirement standards for prospective manufacturing employees. Obama will speak about the program during a trip Wednesday to Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.

The effort comes amid troubling signs for the economy that represent a huge problem for Obama ahead of his 2012 reelection bid. The unemployment rate ticked up last month as the economy added only 54,000 jobs, and other figures suggest a slowing economy.

Manufacturing growth slowed to the slowest pace in nearly two years, according to the latest figures, but the sector, which has fueled the economic recovery, was dragged down by a spike in energy prices through the first several months of the year.

The worker training program is aimed at providing 500,000 community college students with industry-recognized credentials that will help them obtain jobs in the manufacturing sector. The administration is working with the Aspen Institute and the Manufacturing Institute, the affiliated nonprofit of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

While the sector needs skilled engineers, it also needs skilled blue-collar workers, said Ron Bloom, assistant to the president for manufacturing policy.

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said the private sector needs uniform credentials that are simple and understood by workers and human resource shops, and community colleges need to receive the resources to implement the curriculum.

A major concern in manufacturing is the aging workforce — more than 2.7 million workers are at least 55 years and older — and the industries will need replacement workers as older employees choose to retire in 10 to 15 years, Bloom said.