U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Discusses Workforce Development at Communities that Work Partnership Event

November 29, 2016

November 29, 2016, Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivered opening remarks at the Communities that Work Partnership’s (CTWP) capstone event. A joint initiative of the Department of Commerce and the Aspen Institute, the CTWP strengthens regional economies by equipping American workers with the skills needed for 21st century jobs and accelerating industry-led workforce development and training efforts. At the capstone event, CTWP RELEASED A PLAYBOOK that will serve as a guide for communities across the country to strengthen local talent pipelines and improve access to quality employment.

During her remarks, Secretary Pritzker underscored the Department of Commerce’s commitment to working with communities and industry to create business-led, job-driven, and locally determined solutions to addressing the skills gap. Through initiatives such as the CTWP, Commerce is working to prepare America’s workers for the in-demand jobs of the 21st century by expanding apprenticeships and encouraging communities to develop comprehensive economic growth strategies. These strategies incorporate strong talent development plans informed by the needs of local employers. In closing, Secretary Pritzker thanked CTWP partners for their efforts to build the more talented, more skilled workforces that American communities need to thrive.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Walter, thank you for that kind introduction, for your friendship, and for your partnership in making local, regional, and national workforce development efforts more job-driven. It’s been 18 months since the Commerce Department joined forces with the Aspen Institute to launch the Communities That Work Partnership. In that time, we have seen anxiety over the changing nature of work grow into one of the prevailing forces in American politics.

This anxiety stems from a simple fact: while our economy continues to expand, the gains are not felt evenly or immediately. While the unemployment rate is low and the number of jobs is up considerably, the share of Americans actually working is still down from before the recession.

Underlying some of this pain are three technology-driven forces that are charging ahead whether we accept them, whether we like them, or whether we fight them: globalization, automation, and digitization. These forces are disrupting our communities, our workers, and our businesses. Many understandably are feeling left behind.

The question facing all of us here today is, how do we – as business leaders, as academics, as policymakers –  help our people adjust to a world where the very nature of work is changing every day? Although there is no one-size-fits-all answer, any solution to our workforce challenges must be business-led and community-driven. In other words, the solutions are local. Consider this: while there are 7.8 million unemployed workers in the U.S., employers are currently looking to fill 5.5 million open jobs.

What is wrong with that picture?

To prepare our workers to fill these jobs, we must encourage communities to develop comprehensive economic growth strategies that incorporate strong talent development plans, informed by the needs of local employers. That is precisely what we have done through the Communities That Work Partnership. Our goal is to break down silos within regions and ensure that local leaders – from across government, business, education, economic development organizations, and social services – are working together to address the talent development challenges and opportunities.

Joining us today are representatives from Houston, Buffalo, and Prince George’s County – three of the seven communities that participated in the Communities that Work Partnership. Their collective efforts have produced a playbook that can serve as a guide for other communities.

Earlier this year, I saw firsthand how the tenets outlined in this playbook can make a real difference during a visit to Houston. Their local economy has been hard hit by local oil prices, which has led to job loss. But regional leaders recognized an opportunity to retrain oil and gas workers for professions in a bright spot in their local economy: the petrochemical sector.

During a roundtable discussion at a local manufacturer, I heard from industry, educational institutions, and community leaders about how they have come together to develop a comprehensive workforce partnership and build a talent pipeline. Business leaders mapped the demand they had in petrochemicals and construction. They coordinated with social services to ensure that workers undergoing mid-career training had the safety net they needed to succeed. And they worked with K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities to launch a “prototyping” based workforce training program, where multiple new programs are developed and run simultaneously.

This allows their community to take the best components of each prototype and use them to refine their programs in real time as they rapidly expand their workforce programs. Houston’s approach to tackling their workforce challenges was effective because it was designed and tailored to their specific community. But while solutions have to be local, lessons can be gleaned and applied nationally.

Today is an opportunity to learn from each other, to hear more from our community partners about the progress they are making, and for each region to share best practices and lessons learned. Because of the diligence that each of you have committed to this partnership, we are building the more talented, more skilled workforces that American communities need to thrive. Thank you all for your commitment to integrating economic development with workforce training, and congratulations on the great success you have already achieved.

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