Two top officials with the Obama administration visited western Massachusetts today to see the impact of federal dollars on workforce development.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan were briefed about the job training programs developed by Massachusetts community colleges since the schools were awarded $20 million by the Labor Department in 2011 to forge partnerships with employers.
The cabinet secretaries toured a manufacturing training center at Springfield Technical Community College and participated in a panel discussion with college officials, students, and employers.
Perez praised the data- driven approach the consortium of community colleges took to tailor instruction to meet the workforce needs of local employers.
"And the secret sauce of success is community colleges."
Last week, the labor department awarded Massachusetts community colleges an additional $20 million to expand the job training efforts, which Perez hailed as a national model.
"One of the reasons why you got a grant again is you delivered," said Perez. " You got game here in western Massachusetts."
The labor department has awarded nearly $2 billion in grants to 700 colleges across the country in the last three years to create job training partnerships with employers.
Duncan urged Congress to reauthorize funding for job training programs.
" There should be no politics behind this. This is what our country should be doing."
The workforce development project the community colleges launched in Massachusetts three years ago with the initial $20 million grant is called the Transformation Agenda. 6,500 students enrolled in a training program and 70 percent got a job.
Jennifer Freeman, the project manager for the workforce development initiative, said it was designed to move people quickly into high demand careers including advanced manufacturing, healthcare, clean energy, and information technology.
"The typical two-year semester based system does not work for everyone, especially people who are older and unemployed and trying to reenter the workforce. So, a big part of the grant was to redesign how programming is delivered."
David Cruise, president of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, said the scale of the job training programs has to increase to meet employer demand.
" We are going to have to look at capacity and see how we can stretch that capacity."
A recent study by the Hampden County REB projected 2,300 job openings in precision manufacturing during the next three years. Community colleges graduate only 160 trained machinists a year.