WASHINGTON WATCH: Employers Claim 600K Jobs Are Vacant Because Workers Lack Skills To Fill Them (VIDEO) | Roland Martin Reports

WASHINGTON WATCH: Employers Claim 600K Jobs Are Vacant Because Workers Lack The Skills To Fill Them (VIDEO)

We know that African-American unemployment is about double that of whites at 14.3 percent, officially. Yet, employers say 600,000 technical and skilled manufacturing jobs are going vacant because workers don’t have the skills to fill them. And the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce says there are 2.9 million jobs out there that pay over $35,000 a year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

This problem of high unemployment and available jobs has created an opportunity for community colleges and black folks struggling to find work. For a few thousand dollars or even less for fast-track training programs, low-income students and low-wage workers can learn high-tech skills that can lead to a middle-class paycheck.

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome back to “Washington Watch.”

We know that African-American unemployment  is about double that of whites at 14.3 percent, officially.  Yet, employers say 600,000 technical and skilled manufacturing jobs are going vacant because workers don’t have the skills to fill them.  And the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce says there are 2.9 million jobs out there that pay over $35,000 a year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

This problem of high unemployment and available jobs has created an opportunity for community colleges and black folks struggling to find work.  For a few thousand dollars or even less for fast-track training programs, low-income students and low-wage workers can learn high-tech skills that can lead to a middle-class paycheck.

On the campaign trail this year, President Barack Obama said four-year colleges aren’t for everyone, and the President put some money where his mouth is.  $8 billion from the stimulus bill went to making community college affordable, along with expanding jobs training programs in clean energy fields, like solar panel manufacturing and retrofitting buildings to conserve energy.  In his 2013 budget, he also set aside billions more for continuing education, apprenticeships, technical classes and partnerships to quickly take students from the classroom to the factory floor.

African-Americans heard the message.  14 percent of all community college students are African-Americans.  Of all black undergraduates nationwide, 44 percent of them attend a two-year school.  For decades, vocational and technical training programs had been the last option for poor students – usually minorities who couldn’t cut it in a high school or college classroom, but that notion has changed as low-skill, high-wage manufacturing jobs vanished or were shipped overseas.  Now, even a factory job or work at an auto shop requires some higher education, including computer science, math and basic chemistry.

That makes a two-year diploma or certificate more valuable than ever.  For African-Americans, community college, or a ready-to-hire vocational training program in a field like healthcare or computer engineering is an affordable alternative to a four-year college.  A bachelor’s degree from a four-year, public university costs nearly $64,000, [while] a diploma or a certificate from a community college costs around $16,000 over two years.  And that $16,000 investment in a two-year program yields $75,000 more in earnings over a lifetime compared to a high school graduate.

Well, joining us today to talk about how to get a vocational or technical education and strategies for how to use it are my guests:  Beth Glenn, national education director for the NAACP; and Cynthia Brown, vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress.

Folks, welcome to the show.

MS. CYNTHIA BROWN:  Thank you.

MS. BETH GLENN:  Thank you –

MR. MARTIN:  This is a –

MS. GLENN:  — Roland.

MR. MARTIN:  — significant issue that a lot of folks really don’t fully grasp in that we have such a focus and a push:  “four-year,” “four-year,” “four-year.”  Even when you’re looking for scholarship money, it’s all about four years, when a lot of our jobs – some 60-plus percent of jobs in the country – really are training at these two-year colleges.

OFF CAMERA:  Um-hum.

OFF CAMERA:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  And so how do we get people who are caught up in “my son” – or daughter – “goes to Morehouse,” or Spelman, and they don’t want to get excited about saying they go to Kennedy-King College to understand the reality is if your child can’t go to a four-year institution, these are real institutions where they can actually [learn to] earn a nice living?

MS. GLENN:  I think you’re exactly right about that.  We have a report coming out next week called “Finding Our Way Back to First” that talks about reclaiming world leadership by educating more of America’s students to high levels.  And it looks at having high school experiences that prepare students to graduate ready for college, if they choose to go that route, or ready for a career or technical education route.

And you’ve hit upon the exact, right point when you talk about two-year colleges as a bridge both to careers and then as a bridge to a four-year institution, if students would like to do that later.  And so we see that getting students high-level coursework access when they’re in high school allows them to go on to a community college and to succeed, also allowing students the opportunity to actually graduate with a college degree already under their belt – an associate’s degree – so they can get a high school diploma and a two-year degree –

MR. MARTIN:  Don’t –

MS. GLENN:  — is also very helpful.

MR. MARTIN:  — don’t we also need, though, for these companies to understand they have to be partners in this?  I’ve used –

MS. GLENN:  That’s true.

MS. BROWN:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — as an example many times on this show where ComEd in Chicago – they created a nine-month training program with Kennedy-King College in Chicago – my wife was then a vice president there.  And what ended up happening was these were jobs that [an] average job, coming out:  $70,000.  Some of these folks are these folks who were climbing utility poles and things along those lines.  It’s a perfect example of a nine-month training program where they said, “We have a shortage of workers.  We’re going to partner with you.  We know what we need, so we’re going to help you with the curriculum.”  They created it, and they began to employ people.

MS. BROWN:  No, that’s absolutely key.  That’s why community colleges are really important in preparing young people for these kinds of jobs – because they work very closely with businesses in their community, and they’re very responsive to the local economy and the kinds of jobs that exist there.

In the past, we used to have high schools offering these vocational programs, but they weren’t agile enough to adapt to the changes in the local economy, and it was tough for them to forge these kind[s] of partnerships that you’re describing.

MR. MARTIN:  Should we, though, go back to some of that?  We’ve had Sheila Johnson on this show – of course, co-founder of BET.  Also, her ex-husband Bob Johnson – he’s been on the show as well.  Both have actually said the exact, same thing – that we need to see a national movement back to vocational training … because we have too many people in this country who simply don’t have a skill.

OFF CAMERA:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  They don’t know how to do anything, work anything, fix anything; and they say a vocational skill set – even in a high school setting – is also critically important, not just a two-year college.

What do you think about that?

MS. GLENN:  Yeah.  The kind[s] of partnerships that Cindy is talking about, where you’re actually reaching back into the pre-k to 12 setting so that students receive a strong, high-quality public education, and then they’re prepared to go on and to build onto that – and that there’re employers that are ready.  They know that they’ve got a good basic education, and they say, “We can train you to the specifics of the job” –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. GLENN:  — “in another setting, because we know that you have a strong foundation.”

And that’s what the NAACP has been advocating for as a community-based organization for a long time.

MR. MARTIN:  [I’ve] got to ask you this, though.  Isn’t part of this problem, though, also psychological?  And I alluded to it earlier.  What I mean by that is you really – and, actually, I heard Vice President Biden say this – that you have people who say, “Oh, my child goes to this university,” “They go to a big school,” but they really don’t – I mean there’s this sort of mental block:  “Oh, that’s the thirteenth grade.”  “Ooh, a community college.  It’s not as good.”

So, somehow we are focusing on prestige.  We’re focusing on status, as opposed to “can my child get a job?”

MS. BROWN:  Right.  Well – and you know what?  This is true of all communities in this country –

MR. MARTIN:  Right, absolutely.

MS. BROWN:  — not just the African-American –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. BROWN:  — community.  I mean this notion of prestige has gotten way out of hand.

But the other thing that’s important to recognize is that young people coming out of high school need foundational skills to be successful in the kinds of community college or credentialed programs that businesses offer – and, sadly, too many young people don’t have those foundational skills.  And so if you talk about moving more vocational types of programs into high schools, this might be good for interesting young people and their families and getting them to know that these kinds of jobs exist.  But at the same time, you’ve got to work on building a strong foundation in literacy, math literacy –

MR. MARTIN:  Oh, absolutely.

MS. BROWN:  — and reading.

MR. MARTIN:  Absolutely.  I just don’t think it should be either/or.

MS. BROWN:  Right.  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  I’ve got 15 seconds.  Final comment.

MS. GLENN:  It’s particularly key for African-American communities, because we need more of our students to stay engaged in school and graduate from high school so that they can take advantage of opportunities after that.  And if you make it relevant to their career afterward, you have a better chance of getting them to graduate.

MR. MARTIN:  I spoke at Stanford and had people who were saying, “Roland, focus on education and really how great it is and wonderful.”

I said, “Stop.  That’s cute.  I’m focusing on who needs a job.”

MS. BROWN:  At the end of the day, if you’re out of high school, and you’re sitting around trying to figure out what do you do, I need you to have a skill and have a job so you can actually buy a house, pay taxes, raise a family and not just say, you know, “I went through all this other stuff,” which – and, look.  I love English and everything – all that kind of stuff like that, but we need people to have jobs in this country as well.

MS. BROWN:  That’s right.  Absolutely.

MS. GLENN:  Absolutely.  And they[’ve] got to graduate from high school –

MR. MARTIN:  There you go.

MS. GLENN:  — and they[’ve] got to get further training in order to do it in this economy.

MR. MARTIN:  I appreciate it.  We’ll keep pushing it.

Thanks a bunch.

MS. GLENN:  Thank you.