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Obama calls for boost to engineering training

Posted June 13, 2011
Updated June 16, 2011

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— President Barack Obama on Monday unveiled a massive engineering training program to help get U.S. manufacturing back on its feet after the recession.

Obama and members of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness met in the Triangle to hear from local business and university leaders and to compare notes on creating jobs that will put millions of unemployed Americans to work.

"Today, the single most important problem we face is getting people back to work," Obama said during a speech at Cree Inc., a Durham-based company that makes energy-efficient lighting.

The "all-hands-on-deck strategy," he said, would include incentives for students to earn college degrees in engineering, math and technology, public and private funding for university programs in those fields and more internships for students to gain experience before graduating. The goal is to train 10,000 people a year, he said.

"If we’re going to maintain our leadership in technology and innovation, our best companies need the world’s brightest workers – American workers," he said.

The jobs council also suggested other ideas to the president to boost the economy:

  • Training workers for advanced manufacturing.
  • Streamlining permits and red tape to boost construction and infrastructure projects and the jobs they create.
  • Making it easier to get a visas to visit the U.S. to create jobs in the travel and tourism industry.

Cree has demonstrated success both in engineering and advanced manufacturing, Obama noted.

He visited the Durham plant while on the campaign trail three years ago and noted with amazement that the company has doubled the efficiency of its LEDs since then while boosting its output and employment.

President Obama speaks at Cree Obama unveils economic initiatives

"You are helping lead the clean energy revolution. You are helping lead the comeback of American manufacturing. This is a company where the future will be won," he told a couple hundred Cree employees and area dignitaries in his speech.

Blanche Johnson is among the 1,000 people Cree has hired since 2008. She said she sees a bright future for company growth.

"What we are producing is high-volume. They are going to need more (people like) me to do that," Johnson said.

Obama cited successful engineering programs at North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a new engineering program at Southern High School in Durham as helping fill the pipeline for high-tech jobs. Only 14 percent of college students are now enrolled in science and technology programs, he said, adding that fewer than half will graduate with degrees in those fields.

"We must do better than that," he said. "If we’re going to make sure the good jobs of tomorrow stay in America, we need to make sure all our companies have a steady stream of skilled workers to draw from."

N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson agreed that the nation needs more so-called STEM students – those trained in science, technology, engineering and math.

Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of General Electric and chairman of the jobs council, said the group came up with “literally dozens of good ideas" to revive the sluggish economy and boost U.S. manufacturing.

“There are 2 million open jobs in the US,” Immelt said during a reception at the American Tobacco Historic District on Sunday night, noting the disconnect between the openings and the skills of applicants.

In addition to training, Obama also called for a focus on green jobs, such as Cree's energy-efficient LEDs and retrofitting older buildings with such devices to cut energy consumption and save U.S. companies money.

"Upgrading buildings for energy efficiency could save America’s businesses up to $40 billion a year on their utility bills – money that could be better spent growing and hiring new workers," he said. "It will boost manufacturing of energy-efficient products. It will put contractors and construction workers back on the job. It’s a win-win-win proposition."

Former President Bill Clinton will work with the jobs council on the Better Buildings Initiative, Obama said.

"These aren’t solutions to every problem we face, but they will help us move forward, and we are going to pursue them and any other good ideas, no matter where they come from," he said.


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  • edith wharton Jun 15, 2011

    Citizen782, you make some good points, but why not take someone with 20 years of experience and spend a few months training them instead of hiring someone from India and sponsoring their H1B visas? This just seems incredibly short-sighted. I understand companies do not have the patience to nurture or grow employees anymore, but they are shooting themselves in the foot. Someone they spend time training is more likely to be loyal and stick with them when things get tough than someone who is so in demand that they will abandon ship at the first sign of trouble. I've seen it happen too many times.

  • WRALblows Jun 14, 2011

    "There is no lack of skilled, experienced engineers in the triangle."

    Why? Because you can't get a job? I'm afraid you are very wrong. We've hired and fired many with claims of experience and competence only to find they don't know what they're doing - at all. If you're good with specific technology around here, you're employed.

  • WRALblows Jun 14, 2011

    "Engineering and software/IT is mostly going overseas." - aetius476

    Because it has to. If you worked in this field previously (which it sounds like) and can't find a job now it's simply because those looking for local candidates don't feel you have the right experience and skill set. Time to retrain. When you're done, let me know. I get $500 referral bonuses from most head hunters.

  • WRALblows Jun 14, 2011

    "That would be nice, however, it is easier and cheaper to get them overseas."

    I'll say the same thing I told some other guy with this response: It's a myth.

    We're hiring right now. I could post the positions here for experienced ERP and EDI analysts at code level. Because of the lack of local candidates and resources we are bringing in out of state contractors. We are not alone.

    There are easily over 500+ high paying jobs in technology available in the area right now. Local jobs. No one to fill them. Ask any local tech recruiter. It's not just a local anomaly, it's a national. Try to find an out of work network engineer with experience deploying IPv6.

    Reducing taxes on corporations will not turn out of work carpenters into IT engineers, biologists or nurses. The jobs available in the US have moved ahead of the skill set of local, available resources who are out of work.

  • whatelseisnew Jun 14, 2011

    "If we’re going to maintain our leadership in technology and innovation, our best companies need the world’s brightest workers – American workers," he said."

    That would be nice, however, it is easier and cheaper to get them overseas.

  • edith wharton Jun 14, 2011

    Jaydosse, they mean we need engineers who have the skillsets of five completely different disciplines who are all under the age of 30. After all, that's what the job postings for engineers call for now.

  • jas1022 Jun 14, 2011

    @jaydosse -- Concerning your bulb complaint it's already in place, and has been, for state agencies and private companies (Look up NCDENR or EPA) or search fluorescent bulbs. The state has a recycling contract with a company to collect EVERY bulb and I do mean EVERY bulb, battery, and other types of 'commercial' waste. The problem is there are no regs for the common citizen. They can essentially throw whatever they want into a dump with minimal, if any, consequences. The world is full of too many lazy individuals for citizens to be forced to do something they should be doing anyway. Such as recycling all of the bulbs, metal, plastic, batteries, etc.

  • LocalYokel Jun 14, 2011

    We don't need more engineering and science because that's no fun. What we really need is more sports. We desperately need funding for our athletic programs. If we had more football games it could turn this economy around and make our country more competitive at an international level.

  • jaydosse Jun 14, 2011

    What we need is someone to figure out what to do when the mercury in those new spiral low voltage bulbs starts polluting the dumps in the coming years.

    Yes that is correct , those cute spirally low voltage bulbs contain mercury. Just think of what millions of those pretty bulbs disposed of in the landfills is going to do to our environment. Probably doesn't matter. Maybe we will all just glow in the dark and we won't need those peculiar innovations by then. What an ever loving mess!!!!

  • jaydosse Jun 14, 2011

    Is someone out of touch with reality?? I think Mr. Obama and his job council may have been drinking tainted triangle well water yesterday, or perhaps they may all have had a touch of air sickness!!!. No , that can't be because they only drink bottled water and Guinness Stout. Maybe they are all just a bit confused. Currently the triangle doesn't need more engineers but more jobs for engineers :(:(:(:(

    Oh well....just another day in the life........blah blah blah