Obama to tout apprenticeships in Michigan

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — President Barack Obama will visit Macomb Community College on Wednesday to tout the use of apprenticeships to rebuild the U.S. workforce and plans to make community college free for the first two years.

He will also announce $175 million in Labor Department “American Apprenticeship Grants” — including $11 million for three Michigan programs — to 46 public-private partnerships to help employers, organized labor, nonprofits, local governments and educational institutions to expand apprenticeships. The White House said winning grantees have pledged to train and hire more than 34,000 new apprentices in high-growth and high-tech industries including health care, IT and advanced manufacturing over the next five years.

“Apprenticeships are clearly a win-win for employers and workers so our game plan is to continue to grow the available number of apprenticeships,” said Jeffrey Zients, who heads the White House National Economic Council.

Macomb Community College was awarded a $3.9 million grant to fund the Michigan Apprenticeship Program Plus, or MAP+, which “will target apprenticeship pathways in IT and manufacturing occupations. MAP+ will register a new apprenticeship in Digital Sculpting, an area with growing hiring needs in the auto industry, and will work with Federal Financial Aid to find innovative ways to leverage funding to create more apprenticeship opportunities,” the White House said. “The program will serve 600 apprentices, in the two largest metropolitan areas of Michigan. Employer partners include Atlas Tool, Formtech and Autocam Precision Components Group.”

Other winners include $3 million to Focus: HOPE in Detroit to aid four new apprenticeship programs, expand three existing programs and promote career pathways through education during apprenticeship. The program will serve 300 apprentices in targeted occupations in the advanced manufacturing and information technology industries.

The Southeast Michigan Community Alliance in Taylor is getting a $4 million grant to lead the Advance Michigan Center for Apprenticeship Innovation project. “Funds will be utilized to establish or expand apprenticeship programs responsive to the evolving technical needs in the high-demand, new-age automotive and transportation sectors and serve 853 workers.

In an email message to supporters Wednesday released by the White House, Obama disclosed he will “make an announcement about apprenticeships, a crucial tool we're using to rebuild an American workforce that is the envy of the world. And I’ll talk about the progress around the country in making community college free, and what more we need to do to make it available for more students.”

On Friday, the White House said Obama would travel to Warren to visit the community college where he made his first visit to Michigan after taking office in July 2009. He will be accompanied by Jill Biden, a community college instructor and wife of the vice president. This will be his 17th trip to Michigan since taking office and the first since January.

Obama first proposed a $12 billion plan to boost community colleges in his Macomb County appearance — and proposed adding 5 million more community college graduates by 2020 — up from 1 million annual community college graduates — but Congress approved only some of the funds and the administration is not on target to meet that aggressive goal.

The White House said while in Warren, Obama will tour the Michigan Technical Education Center “and deliver remarks announcing new steps to expand apprenticeships and to continue to build momentum nationwide to make community college free for responsible students.”

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, praised Obama’s focus on community colleges and apprenticeships.

The White House has made reviving the manufacturing sector a key priority. After the last decade when thousands of factories around the country closed, the industry remains one of the hardest hit — and the percentage of U.S. workers that work in the manufacturing sector has fallen below 8.7 percent — an all-time low.

Manufacturing has shed about one-third of total jobs since 2000, when it was 17.2 million. When Obama took office, U.S. factories employed 12.6 million people; today it is 12.33 million, up about 110,000 jobs over the last year.

In January, Obama proposed a $60.3 billion plan over 10 years to provide two years of tuition-free community college for most Americans. The White House said if all states participated an estimated 9 million students could benefit. A full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year. Obama is announcing the creation of the College Promise Advisory Board, led by Dr. Jill Biden, and Vice-Chair former Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer.

The proposal has gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Opponents have questioned the program’s potential cost given the nation’s $18 trillion debt, how it would be financed and what they consider a too-low 2.5 grade point average of around a C+ to qualify.

The federal government would pay about three-quarters of the average cost of community college. States that choose to participate would be expected to contribute remaining funds necessary to eliminate community college tuition for eligible students. States would also have to commit to continue existing investments in higher education. The program would not be eligible to students making $200,000 or more.

The White House said Obama next week will join Education Secretary Arne Duncan “who will be traveling the country in a bus all week long — at a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, where I'm looking forward to having a conversation with juniors and seniors gearing up for college as well as with their parents who, in many cases, are trying to figure out how to pay for it.”