America no longer enjoys a monopoly on skilled workers or a patent on innovation.  To secure our place at the head of the global economy, we must ensure that America’s students and workforce have the knowledge and skills to be successful.

If we continue on the path we are on, we will not have people with the talents and skills we will need to fill the jobs that will be created over the next few years.  Strengthening America’s competitiveness requires that students and workers of all ages have the opportunity to gain the knowledge and the skills they will need to be successful throughout their lives, regardless of their background.  Lifetime education and training is no longer an option, it is a necessity – for individuals, for employers and for the economy.

As today’s HELP Committee hearing titled “Strengthening American Competitiveness for the 21st Century,

In the HELP Committee, we are using this opportunity to shape policy and strengthen the education and training pipeline.  Through the reauthorization of Head Start, No Child Left Behind, the Higher Education Act and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) we can make sure that every individual has access to a lifetime of education and training opportunities that provide the knowledge and skills they need to be successful and that our employers need to remain competitive.

As we renew and improve these important programs, we must re-build, strengthen and maintain our education pipeline, beginning in elementary school.  We need to find ways to encourage students to complete high school and enter college ready to prepare for and enter high-skill fields such as math, science, engineering, health, technology and critical foreign languages.  We must also strengthen the programs that encourage and enable citizens of all ages to enroll in postsecondary education institutions.

I commend our panel’s only witness, Bill Gates, for his efforts to enhance the knowledge and skills of America’s workforce, and thank him for sharing his views on immigration and the difficulties that surround hiring skilled foreign workers.

We need to look at how we address immigration.  On the one hand, many people are concerned about illegal immigration and the impact legal immigration could have on their employment.  On the other hand, many employers have a need for trained and educated employees and are unable to fill these positions with domestic employees, leaving them with the choice of hiring foreign workers or moving their operations overseas.

The complicated and overly burdensome process for visas and permanent residency cards currently serves as a disincentive to both the employer and the employee.  I believe we should continue to work on this issue in the context of larger immigration reform as well as in the context of our international competitiveness.  While we work to make our domestic workforce better trained to fill high-tech jobs, we must ensure that our high-tech companies remain in the United States.