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Obama seeks to revamp federal job training programs

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WAUKESHA, Wis. – President Obama on Thursday ordered an across-the-board review of federal job training programs, seeking to make the American workforce more job-ready, but he acknowledged that his presidential initiative just scratches the surface.

Speaking to a crowd at a General Electric gas engines facility, Obama said the nation needs a more sweeping jobs plan that would have to be approved by Congress. “I want to work with them, but I can’t wait for them,” he said. “We’ve got too much work to do out there.”

The push to improve job readiness comes on the second day of the president’s post-State of the Union tour to sell his agenda for the year. As fellow Democrats gear up for midterm elections, Obama is focusing on plans to build economic security and expand opportunities for the middle class.

Congressional Republicans aren’t impressed with the actions the president is proposing, whether he implements them by executive power or calls on them to participate. As for the study the president is ordering up, GOP leaders argue that such information is already available from the Government Accountability Office, an independent, nonpartisan agency that studies issues for Congress.

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In a letter sent Thursday to Obama, House GOP leaders argued that they have already acted to solve the problems he described in his State of the Union speech. Senate Democrats, they suggested, should simply take up House measures, such as the proposed SKILLS Act to consolidate federal programs, and focus resources on the most effective ones.

“In each area, a House-passed bill is already sitting in the Senate, so there is no reason for further delay,” House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and the three other top House Republicans wrote.

An advisor to Obama said the SKILLS Act would downsize job-training programs too significantly. The study the president wants to do is more focused on tailoring job training to contemporary job opportunities than the GAO study was, Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer said.

After touring the GE facility, Obama talked about how government can inspire “job-driven training” by working with businesses and community colleges.

GE Energy works with a Wisconsin regional workforce program that develops training systems under the guidance of employers, colleges and unions.

After his remarks, Obama signed a presidential memorandum directing a review of how to make federal training programs more focused on helping workers get the right skills for in-demand jobs.

Obama also directed Vice President Joe Biden to work with business and community leaders on adopting effective job training practices. He also said he would launch a competition for grant money for community colleges that work with employers and industry in developing their job training.

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The American economy is changing, Obama said, and the U.S. workforce must adapt. “Not all of today’s good jobs need a four-year degree, but the ones that don’t need a college degree do need some specialized training,” he said. “If we’re going to have a manufacturing base in this country, we’ve got to have manufacturing employees.”

Out-of-work Americans need Congress to invest in employment programs designed to connect the unemployed with job opportunities. "They need new skills to get jobs today," he said.

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christi.parsons@latimes.com

Twitter: @cparsons

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