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Op-ed, Nashua Telegraph (NH): Democrats are the ‘party of the people’ – our policies should help all people

Democrats are the ‘party of the people’ – our policies should help all people

Want a skilled workforce and an education policy that looks after all Americans? Don’t forgive all student debt: focus on “Training for a Lifetime” for the 65% of Americans who don’t have a college degree.
We have a serious skills gap in this country. Too many employers say they can’t find the skilled workers to fill available jobs. And yet 5% of Americans have left the workforce over the past twenty years because they lack the skills to get a job in this labor market – and they don’t have the money to afford training.
My party has focused a great deal of attention on college debt. Of course the inflation in tuition costs and the burden of debt faced by some merits a concerted response. But forgiving all student debt, as many Democratic candidates are proposing, forces the 65% of Americans who do not have a degree to fund the education of those who do. We can deal with excessive student debt by expanding and improving an existing federal program called REPAYE, which limits student debt repayment to 10% or less of disposable income and forgives any remaining debt after 20 years; I believe we should be lowering that threshold to 5% for low-income Americans, and do a much better job at making sure people are aware of this important program.
Meanwhile, we are ignoring the needs of that majority, many of whom lack the skills to adapt to the changing world of work. They voted for Donald Trump. Or maybe they voted for Hillary Clinton. Many did not vote at all. They nevertheless all deserve our support.
I recently walked 105 miles across New Hampshire, from Chesterfield on the Vermont border to Portsmouth by the sea. One of my favorite stops along the way was the Granite State Trade School – where people were being trained for skills that our economy really needs, like plumbing, HVAC and other technical professions.
It provides an answer to the question many have asked: what happens to that coal miner when the mine closes as we move to green technologies and away from fossil fuels? What happens to the farm laborer when driverless tractors put him or her out of a job? At the moment, 40% of all Americans cannot find $400 to deal with an emergency – how do we expect them to be able to afford to pay for job training after they’ve lost their job?
As President, I will lead our country to make a national commitment to what I call “Training for a Lifetime.” In the military, we constantly train and re-train servicemembers — this explains why the U.S. Air Force runs the largest community college system in the country — because technology changes so rapidly. But while technology might become obsolete, a hard worker never will.
In the United States as a whole, our spending on labor training is .001% of our GDP, the lowest of all developed countries. Yet there are great models around the country that point to ways to improve this situation. In Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Las Vegas, a private non-profit called Tech Impact runs a free 16-week program called ITWorks. The first 11 weeks of the program include education in basic information technology skills, while the last five weeks are an internship with a local company or non-profit, giving trainees some real-life, hands-on experience. So far they have had over 500 young people (ages 18-26) participate, and 75% of participants have found employment after six months, earning an average of $35,000 per year. This free program is supported by foundations, corporations, and state and local governments where it is active. With more support, it could expand further.
What we need is a system-wide transformation of our national job training infrastructure. With significant public and private investment we can reach a point at which the entire workforce will be trained and retrained in increasingly higher skill-sets as the world and technology changes. Through public education, federal student loans, and a raft of other programs, nearly every worker in this country has reached their current position in part because of public investment in them, and we forfeit our nation’s investment when we allow any worker to be left behind by globalization or technological advancement. For the relatively low cost of job re-training, we can maintain the kind of skilled workforce we need for the 21st century. This I consider the #1 priority in education for the entire American workforce.
In order to improve access to workforce training, we need to implement a wide range of solutions on the federal level, including providing more support for public-private partnerships to increase investment in training infrastructure, more federal funding for state and local training programs, more registered apprenticeships on federally-funded building or infrastructure repair projects, and developing a national apprenticeship program for one-on-one training. Furthermore, when jobs and industries disappear, whether due to globalization or technological developments (such as robotics or artificial intelligence), the government should ensure that workers can access training for the jobs available in their place. 
If we don’t make workforce training for a lifetime a national priority, our country will not be able to compete with global rivals. But it’s not just an investment in our economic future – it’s also a renewal of our national promise to take care of all of our citizens, and not just those who already enjoy the privilege of a college degree. We owe it to the Americans who work with their hands (and their minds) to do better and help them find the opportunities they need to thrive.
If desire to also view article on Nashua Telegraph website, click here.