Editor’s note: Chris Lu served as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor during the Obama Administration, and he is now a Senior Fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center. The opinions in this commentary are the author’s alone.
For all of Donald Trump’s bluster about his job creation abilities, this week will provide one of the first indications of how the U.S. economy has fared on his watch. On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release data on the unemployment rate and the number of jobs created in February.
If the numbers are good, Trump will take a victory lap about how his promises of corporate tax reform and deregulation have already spurred hiring. If the numbers are bad, he might repeat his discredited claim that the employment rate is “a phony number.” Either way, Trump will continue his push to bring jobs back to the U.S.
Creating jobs is an important goal and one that unites both political parties. The challenge, however, is that the President is focusing on only half of the jobs equation. Job creation means nothing without job training.
There are currently 5.5 million open jobs in this country, including 1.1 million in health care, 357,000 in the financial industry, and 325,000 in manufacturing. Yet, around the country, employers are facing a “powerful headwind” in filling these openings because of a shortage of skilled workers.
Donald Trump heard this message when he recently met with a group of corporate CEOs. One executive told White House officials, “The jobs are there, but the skills are not.”
As the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor, I met with employers across the country. To a person, they told me that the U.S. needs to do more to train workers for the jobs of the 21st century. That’s why I visited Kansas City last June to see how the city is addressing this issue.
I saw first-hand how the innovation ecosystem represented by the Kansas City Startup Village and Google Fiber is spurring entrepreneurship and closing the digital divide. I met with local partners – like the Full Employment Council, Metropolitan Community College, and Think Big Partners – that are working to fill the estimated 3,000 open IT jobs in the area. And I heard how Kansas City, one of the first communities to participate in the TechHire initiative, is using $5 million in federal funding to develop job skills needed in IT, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and financial services
Around the country, communities like Kansas City are adopting similar strategies. They are emphasizing career and technical education, expanding the use of apprenticeships and stackable credentials, investing in community colleges, and experimenting with innovative training models. However, none of this is possible without a commitment from the federal government.
Right now, on a per capita basis, Germany spends five times as much on job training as the U.S., and this disparity will grow if the President has his way. The Trump Administration has proposed slashing the budgets of agencies like the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education that expand the pipeline of skilled workers.
So far, Donald Trump’s economic agenda has mostly involved tweet-shaming companies to keep jobs in the country. While this approach certainly generates headlines, it’s not sustainable if companies can’t find enough workers with the right skills. It would be a cruel irony if the working-class Americans who supported Trump are unable to compete for the jobs that he wants to create.
If the President is serious about developing a long-term jobs program, he should look at how cities like Kansas City are creating a pipeline of skilled workers – and he will find much to tweet about.
Chris Lu served as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor during the Obama Administration, and he is now a Senior Fellow at the University of Virginia Miller Center. You can follow him at: @ChrisLu44.