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The Teamsters are longtime advocates of improved job-skills training. So it should come as no surprise that this union wholeheartedly endorses Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to provide debt-free tuition to both high school graduates as well as older adults interested in beefing up their abilities.

Michigan lawmakers kick-started the creation of such a plan with the introduction of two bills last month that would bolster the ability of hardworking Michiganians to land a job that would allow them to build a career and support a family in this state. It’s a policy other elected officials around the country would be wise to replicate if they truly wish to improve the lives of workers in their communities.

One bill, the MI Opportunity Scholarship, would guarantee universal access to community college for every student in Michigan, and would reduce the cost of a four-year university for all low-income and middle-income high school graduates who earn at least a “B” average. A second, called the Michigan Reconnect Program, would provide free skills-training programs for adults at community colleges. Together, they would go a long way toward filling thousands of job openings in this state.

Not surprisingly, these measures are attracting bipartisan support, as well as the backing of the business community. Why? Because there is an understanding that a more qualified workforce not only benefits workers with higher wages, but companies as well who will have better-trained employees.

Michigan and the U.S. as a whole need a 21st century workforce to better compete in the global economy. The public and private sectors must do their part if they are to create more good-paying jobs for Americans. Teamsters have a history of helping members and their kids get the skills they need with scholarship funds like the James R. Hoffa Memorial Scholarship Fund, which has awarded over $10 million for tuition to college and vocational schools since its establishment 20 years ago. Education is essential for preparing people for the working world.

 And Whitmer understands that, given she is pushing to raise the number of working-age adults in Michigan with a post-secondary degree or certificate from 45 percent now to 60 percent by 2030. By year two of the programs, it is expected these job-training measures together would assist some 127,000 people.

There is a skilled worker shortage. It should be the goal of lawmakers across the political spectrum to encourage youth not pursuing post-secondary academic studies to obtain training in a skill area that will provide them with the opportunity to earn a living wage and a career track that will ultimately give them a path to the middle class. These bills would accomplish that goal.

Better worker training means better services and safety for all Americans. Labor unions like the Teamsters make it happen every day with the training this union offers its members. But unions can’t do it alone. Government and corporations have a role to play. Michigan and the U.S. need to increase the amount of workers who are compensated for their skills and hard work with salaries and benefits that give them dignity and allow them to live a middle-class lifestyle.

Whitmer is doing her part to put current and future workers in a position to succeed in the workforce by giving them the skills they need. Now the Legislature in Lansing should complete the job by approving these bills. Doing so will help Michigan and its families.

James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.

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