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Obama calls for more job training in manufacturing

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) tours through Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC)'s automotive training program in Alexandria, Virginia, June 8, 2011.

Tess Vigeland: Once upon a time, manufacturing was the driving force behind the U.S. economy; it turned factory workers into middle class consumers. President Obama is hoping that reviving that part of the economy could be an answer to the unemployment crisis. Today, he made a stop at Northern Virginia Community College to announce an expanded federal job training program for the manufacturing sector.

Barack Obama: But the goal isn't just making sure that somebody's got a certificate or a diploma. The goal is to make sure your degree helps you to get a promotion or a raise or a job.

But manufacturing jobs are just one side of the equation. The other: community college students.

Our education correspondent Amy Scott is with us from WYPR in Baltimore to talk more about the president's plan. Hi Amy!

Amy Scott: Hi Tess.

Vigeland: So how's this program going to work?

Scott: Well one of the complaints about job training programs is that students often spend a lot of time and money and then have trouble finding a job, you know, because the skills that they learned don't really match up with what employers are looking for. So the White House is working with community colleges and manufacturers to create a standardized system so that if you go to school and you earn a credential, that credential will be recognized by a range of employers and across state lines. And the goal is to help some-500,000 community college students get jobs in manufacturing.

Vigeland: Why community colleges?

Scott: Well they already do a lot of the vocational training in this country. They tend to have good relationships with local employers, they're low-cost and you can get a credential pretty quickly. But I spoke with Thomas Bailey with the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, and he says this is also a part of President Obama's larger goals to try to get more U.S. workers some kind of education after high school.

Thomas Bailey: And if you think about how you're going to do that a reasonable cost, community colleges are an obvious site to try to do that.

But you know, Tess, other colleges do vocational training, like for-profit schools. And they're naturally not very happy about all this attention community colleges are getting, especially at a time when the Obama administration is tightening regulations for for-profit schools.

Vigeland: Right, we saw that actually up on Capitol Hill this week. The other point of this is try to jumpstart the manufacturing sector, right? But you know, there's been such a long decline in manufacturing over the years. Will there really be enough jobs for all these people?

Scott: Believe it or not, manufacturing has actually been leading the economic recovery. In the last year and a half, the sector has added close to a quarter of a million jobs. That is, of course, just a fraction of the jobs lost in the recession. But the White House points out also that more than two million older manufacturing workers are likely to retire in the next 10 years, so we'll need trained workers to replace them. And as you said, the hope is that a better workforce will help U.S. manufacturers be more competitive and, in the end, create more jobs.

Vigeland: All right. Marketplace's Amy Scott, joining us from Baltimore. Thanks so much.

Scott: You're welcome.

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