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“I don’t care what country you represent, or what industry you represent, workforce is a challenge,” said Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.
OXON HILL, Md. — Two governors and the chief executives of General Motors and General Electric stressed the importance of developing the nation’s workforce, during remarks made at an event held here Monday that was focused on attracting foreign investment to the U.S.
The governors highlighted apprenticeship and technical college programs as pathways to well-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing and other fields. And the business executives noted partnerships their companies were cultivating that involved education and training.
“I don’t care what country you represent, or what industry you represent, workforce is a challenge,” said Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, also a Republican, echoed that view. “The workforce is what we see as our main need,” he said.
These comments came after President Trump last Thursday signed an executive order aimed at expanding apprenticeships in the U.S.
One provision in the order calls for the Secretary of Labor, along with the Secretaries of Education and Commerce to consider proposing regulations to promote the development of apprenticeship programs by companies and organizations such as industry groups and unions.
Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, said the company has seen talent shortages in some areas of its workforce and pointed to efforts the automaker is undertaking to bolster science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education among school-age students.
“We’re working with the K through 12 education system to make sure that we’re investing enough from a STEM perspective,” Barra said. She mentioned a GM collaboration with a nonprofit organization that helps teach middle-school-age girls to write computer code.
Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, said the company has “really tapped into community colleges” and that he believes the ability of U.S. companies to train employees is one of the nation’s advantages when competing globally.
Immelt also pushed back on the premise that automation and other new technology would primarily destroy jobs—a concern, as he put it, that “everybody in this room is going to be a robot in 10 years.”
Instead, he said, new technology could help with training and productivity. He offered an example of an engineer working on a gas turbine plant using virtual reality and artificial intelligence tools.
“I actually think there’s a very strong, short-term, pro-worker technology wave that’s going to take place,” Immelt said.
The governors and CEOs made their remarks at the SelectUSA Investment Summit, an event put on by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Business leaders from around the world and government officials from throughout the U.S. were on hand.
Bevin explained in his remarks that Kentucky has a program that allows high school seniors to earn credit toward two-year or four-year college degrees, or professional certifications.
“This idea that everyone needs to go straight to a four-year college is something that I think we have done to our disadvantage in America,” Bevin added. “We need people that are trained to work in the 21st century, not just to have degrees and high expectations.”
The governor also referred to training opportunities for older, mid-career workers and a $100 million state initiative that awarded money competitively to groups with ideas for workforce development, such as apprenticeship and certification programs.
Aviation component manufacturing and auto-making are two top industries in Kentucky, Bevin said.
McMaster said technical schools in South Carolina will cater curriculums, facilities and faculty to the needs of businesses that want to locate there. “That’s all at no cost,” he emphasized—providing that an employer will be permanent and pay good wages and benefits.
“The real infrastructure is the people and the training,” the South Carolina governor said. “This workforce development is probably the most important thing right now.”
Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.
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