Oakdale, Pennsylvania (CNN) – Hoping to help close the gap between workers' skills and the needs of businesses, President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced he's putting hundreds of millions toward job training programs that produce highly skilled workers.
“When it comes to training our workers, not all of today's good jobs require a four-year college degree, but I promise there's not a job out there that's going to pay a lot if you don't have some sort of specialized training,” Obama said. “So our best bet is keeping ahead in the skills race and you see what happens when we put effort into making sure workers have new skills, the education that's required for this 21st century economy.”
Joined by Vice President Joe Biden at the announcement at a community college outside of Pittsburgh, the President said while the economy has been improving, there is still more work to be done for those who are unemployed and those who are underemployed.
“America's got a choice to make. We can do nothing, which is the strategy that some folks in Washington seem to have or we can do what we've always done best. We pull together, we fight back, and we win,” the President said.
The funding will come in two parts: $500 million toward a new job training competition that pairs community colleges with businesses, and $100 million for new apprenticeship programs to train workers.
The White House says the new initiatives are meant to combat a long-standing problem facing the American job market: how to fill job vacancies requiring skills few Americans have.
High-growth sectors like information technology, high-tech services, healthcare and advanced manufacturing all require workers with specific sets of training. Many in those fields say they can't find enough American workers with the required skills, forcing them to find workers overseas.
The President first announced during this year's State of the Union address that he wanted Biden to lead an administration-wide task force to examine how Americans can better train for jobs. Since then the vice president has met with CEOs and business executives and visited job training centers in New York and New Hampshire.
Community colleges are another area the vice president has placed his job-creating focus. His wife Jill teaches part-time at a community college outside Washington. His trip on Wednesday also something of a homecoming for the Pennsylvania-born Biden.
The jobs effort is one aspect of Obama's so-called "year of action," during which the President has used executive actions on issues where Congress has been gridlocked.
The administration hopes the competition announced Wednesday will spur colleges and industry leaders to work more closely in developing skilled workers who could begin work when their training is finished. They also hope companies will design programs to help entry-level workers advance within ranks.
Officials also said the apprenticeship push would help place skilled workers in more jobs, since nearly all apprentices – 87% – find employment when their training is complete.