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Obama to Expand Job-Training Programs With $600 Million Plan

April 16 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama plans to announce today an expansion of job-training and apprenticeship programs with a $600 million effort intended to equip workers with the skills sought by employers.

The first initiative is a $500 million competitive grant program for community colleges linked with businesses to create programs to teach the specific skills needed for open jobs.

The second is a $100 million apprenticeship program, in which businesses, unions, community colleges or non-profit organizations would form partnerships to teach skills for hard- to-fill jobs, such as information technology, high-tech services, health-care and advanced manufacturing.

Obama, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, will make the announcements at the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center in Oakdale, Pennsylvania, southwest of Pittsburgh.

“Too many businesses can’t find skilled workers for jobs they want to fill,” according to a White House fact sheet. The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in March, unchanged from February. In Pennsylvania, the rate was 6.2 percent in February, down from 6.4 percent in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Filling Jobs

The initiative is a follow-up to Obama’s State of the Union address in January, in which he directed Biden to review federal programs to make sure they “train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.”

“That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life,” Obama said in the address. “It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs.”

The White House fact sheet said that 87 percent of apprentices get jobs after finishing their training programs, with an average starting salary of more than $50,000 a year.

For the community college program, the Labor Department is issuing applications now for partnerships between schools and employers. Grants will be awarded based on how the schools propose to train people for skills, as well as the potential of an entry-level job leading to more advanced positions.

Successful Programs

The apprenticeship program, to begin in the fall, would be financed by H-1B fees that employers pay to the government to bring in skilled workers because they can’t find Americans with the proper skills.

The administration is encouraging potential partners for apprenticeships to build on successful programs already underway by companies including Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Deere & Co. and United Parcel Service Inc. along with the United Auto Workers.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said Obama ought to urge the Senate to vote on a House-passed bill. It seeks to “streamline dozens of overlapping federal programs and make them more effective” in training the unemployed for good-paying jobs, said Brendan Buck, press secretary for Boehner.

A General Accountability Office study in 2011 said the federal government has 47 job-training programs “but little is known about the effectiveness of most programs.”

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