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Walberg Statement: Field Hearing on “Reviving our Economy: The Role of Higher Education in Job Growth and Development”

Chairwoman Foxx, I appreciate your time this morning to travel from North Carolina to be here with us.  I would like to thank all of the staff here at Monroe County Community College for the time it took them to prepare for this hearing and allowing us to use their facilities.  To our witnesses, I would also like to thank you for making time to participate today.  This is a unique opportunity to shine a national spotlight on how higher education, community leaders and businesses in Michigan are effectively bridging what is now come to be known as the Skills Gap.

Well before the financial crisis of 2008, our communities here in Michigan wrestled with the challenge of ensuring the skills possessed by our workforce meet the skills demanded by our ever-evolving job market.  Bridging this gap ensures our ability to grow business and compete domestically and internationally.  

In Michigan the unemployment rate is near 9 percent and yet we hear from entrepreneurs every day that Michigan is “open for business.”  The predicament many businesses face is that they simply cannot find enough employees with the skills and training to fill their demand for jobs.  In fact, - one of the premier sites that Michigan employers use to recruit talent -shows that demand for jobs.  A search within 50 miles of where we are sitting shows there are more than 16 thousand jobs currently available today.  Remarkably, that number would be substantially higher if it were not for some of the institutions of higher education, businesses, and workforce development agencies across the region that are represented in this room. 

Despite the tough economic circumstances we face, employers like DTE and many others that call our region home continue to renew and expand their operations and demand educated employees.  They see the value in working with schools like Siena Heights University and community colleges like those in Jackson and Monroe County to teach future employees the skills needed to fill these good paying jobs which can support their families.

One of our tasks on the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training requires us to examine actions we can be taking on the federal level in using hard-working taxpayer dollars effectively to encourage our institutions of higher education and job creators to work in collaboration in getting job seekers prepared for the careers currently available.

One such action we recently took was to pass the SKILLS Act that was authored by my colleague sitting next to me and the Chairwoman of this Subcommittee, Dr. Foxx.  The SKILLS Act would consolidate and streamline our workforce development processes to make them more efficient and ensure that hardworking taxpayers see their money spent wisely.  The legislation places an emphasis on workforce development at the local level by requiring local workforce boards to set aside a portion of their funding for training programs.  This will enable community colleges, such as Monroe and Jackson, to contract with their local boards to more adequately address the needs of their community and students.

I believe the SKILLS Act was a significant step to help Michigan’s job seekers.  As we go about our work in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Education and Workforce Committee we need to continue on the path of working to reform our federal policies that enable job creation for a healthy economy. It is my goal to highlight what many schools and businesses in our great state are already doing by collaborating with job creators to ensure students learn the skills necessary for what is currently in demand as well as what will be in the future. 


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