Job skills hold
key to future,
Isle leaders hear plansBy Russ Lynch
to offer scholarships and
training to workers
About 150 Hawaii educators, business and community leaders, and government representatives in a three-island satellite hook-up took part in a national conference today to hear Vice President Al Gore press for the development of higher job skills to meet 21st century needs.
In a session marred at the beginning by satellite link failures, jerky pictures and wide variations in volume, the Oahu session of about 35 people at the Manoa Innovation Center settled down to listen to Gore in a nationwide live link of about 1,000 sites.
Speaking to an audience in Washington D.C., Gore announced Clinton administration plans to give a tax break to employers who provide scholarships to improve the skills of their workers. He also announced $60 million in new federal funding to support job-skills training in sectors of the economy where it is most needed and an additional tax credit for employers who take action to improve the literacy of their workers.
Gore said it will be increasingly important to teach new job skills to the existing work force across the country, as well as developing skills for new employees in new industries.
"Seventy-five percent of the people who'll be working in 2010 are already in the workplace today," Gore said. But older jobs are disappearing and those people will need new skills, he said, calling on labor and business to mount new initiatives to achieve that. Some of it is happening already, Gore said.
"The average age of students at community colleges is 29 and rising." That indicates that adults are seeking new skills, he said. However, in one survey 88 percent of U.S. manufacturing companies reported having a hard time getting a suitably qualified employee for at least one job in each of their plants, he said.
Gore said he has heard of one snag in improving workers' skills. Some employers worry that if they help their employees improve their capabilities the employees will leave and take their skills to better jobs, he said.
But the vice president said the rapid expansion of the U.S. economy, in what has now become a record three-year growth period, requires more working skills. Once, land and capital were the country's key strategic resources; now knowledge and skills are, he said.
Heading the Hawaii participation from the Maui Research & Technology Center, state Labor Director Lorraine Akiba set up a three-island seminar after Gore's remarks, through video links between Maui, Oahu and the Big Island.
Hawaii participation in the seminar was coordinated by the Department of Labor & Industrial Relations, the Maui Community College, the Maui Economic Development Board and the Manoa Research & Technology Center.