Obama's new labor secretary wants to work with colleges

Tom Perez at the announcement of his nomination as U.S. secretary of labor.

Thomas Perez was confirmed as U.S. Labor Secretary about six weeks ago. Job growth has been slow, and unemployment levels remain stagnant around 7.4 percent.

"I speak to a lot of business owners who are trying to hire," Perez says. "They want to hire, and the most frequent thing I hear from them is 'all too many people come in through the door don't have the skills necessary to do the job that I need to do.'"

Last month, the U.S. economy added about 160,000 jobs to the workforce.

"I think that the economy is slowly and steadily growing, but I think the preisdent is the first person that'll tell you that we need to do more. We have to pick up the pace," says Perez. "There is so much more that can be done to grow the economy, including passing immigration reform, including investing in skills, including investnig in infrastructure."

Perez adds:

"We talk a lot about the budget deficit, and I'll note that the budget deficit has been going down in the past 12 months significantly. But [what] we also have to do is talk about the skills deficit. We have to make sure that [for] the jobs of tomorrow, that people have the skills to do them. I think the Department of Labor can play a critically-important role as the quarterback of a demand-driven, very nimble workforce development system, where we work with community colleges, with employers, to understand what their needs are, and to help train workers. If you look at industrialized nations across the globe, we are near the bottom in terms of the public-sector investment in skills. As we're going to compete in the global economy, we need to understand that context."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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