President Obama sent his deputy labor secretary to Minneapolis Tuesday to shake hands and showcase the good training work being done at Hennepin Technical College.
The college tour, complete with officials from Minnesota's economic development division; manufacturers such as St. Jude Medical and E.J. Ajax and Sons; students and rags-to-riches employment stories, is part of a nationwide initiative to drum up support for the $8 billion community-college jobs-training program that Obama floated during his State-of-the-Union address.
The proposal is now in his annual budget. If approved by Congress, Obama would use the money to train 2 million workers at community colleges with the latest high-tech and health-care skills.
To show Congress how such a program could work to spur jobs, U.S. Labor Deputy Sec. Seth Harris is visiting community colleges in North Carolina, Iowa, Pittsburgh and the Twin Cities, while U.S. Labor Sec. Hilda Solis hits other college hot spots.
At Hennepin, Harris was clearly wowed. "They have done an excellent job coming together with employers to train workers for high earning, middle-class jobs," he said.
While there, Harris did a little training of his own.
He donned a "virtual welding" helmet, watched students cut metal using computer controlled lasers and nodded approvingly as nursing students pried information from resistant "patients" sprawled on hospital beds. He also met several of Hennepin Tech's corporate partners and several laid-off workers who turned to Hennepin to receive degrees and certificates. They went onto secure well-paying jobs.
Harris said the college is one of the best in the country when it comes to partnering with businesses and state government to train existing workers, laid off job hunters, ex-convicts and low-income wage earners looking to bolster their skills, credentials and income, Harris said.
Hennepin Technical received a $2.6 million federal-grant in 2009 to buy high-tech equipment and provide training scholarships to 350 students. Such programs are seen as gateways to employing workers who have been hit hard by the economy and need to upgrade their skill sets.
Harris said he watched one manufacturing technical student master an expensive "CNC" machine that uses computers to manufacturer goods with robots. The student already made $24 an hour using a less-expensive CNC machine. When Harris asked why he was bothering leaning the newer machine, the student explained that he could make $30 an hour running the advanced machine.
Training works, Harris said.