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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Delivers Remarks at German Embassy Skills Training Conference, Aspen Institute

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thank you to Thomas Duesterberg and the Aspen Institute for hosting today’s forum and for serving as a key partner in promoting smart policies to build a skilled workforce. 

Two years ago, one of my predecessors, Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank, came to this institute to help launch the German Embassy’s Skills Initiative. She knew then what we all still know now: the effort to bring your dual system of training to America may be one of the most valuable German imports to our country over the long term. 

I believe there is a simple reason why Secretary Blank joined you in 2012 and why I have returned today: when the United States and Germany work together, both nations’ economies grow; our businesses thrive; and our families prosper. 

At this time, our bilateral ties have never been stronger. The facts tell the story of a robust, active, deep economic relationship. Last year, we had an all-time record of $223 billion in two-way goods and services trade. In 2013, Germany was both our largest export market and our largest source of imports in Europe. Germany remains one of our largest sources of foreign direct investment, comprising more than 10 percent of all FDI in the United States in 2012. Right now, leaders from both our countries are working to remove regulatory hurdles and other barriers to trade through T-TIP – the ambitious U.S.-EU trade agreement that the Ambassador mentioned. 

Beyond the numbers, experience tells the story of the real benefits of our alliance for our companies and workers. 

When I visited the BMW plants in both Munich and Spartanburg, South Carolina, I saw the thriving connection between a German company and an American community – a snapshot of our nations’ deep commercial and economic ties. 

When I traveled to Germany last November, I also had the opportunity to meet with iwis. This medium-sized manufacturer demonstrates the effectiveness of the German Embassy’s Skills Initiative. For iwis, the availability of a highly-qualified workforce was a key factor in their choice of a site for their new automotive supply plant in the United States. They found what they were looking for in Murray, Kentucky. 

Governor Steve Beshear was the perfect partner for iwis. The Governor sent a letter to businesses in his home state urging them to engage in the state’s workforce training efforts.While preparing to start production in their factory in Murray, Kentucky, iwis received the letter and utilized the German Embassy’s Skills Initiative to connect with training partners and employers on-the-ground. Now, iwis is applying the dual system in our own backyard, presenting a model of how we can educate workers and give them real-life experience at the same time. Meanwhile, iwis is bringing managers, trainers, and teachers from their Kentucky plant and Murray State University to Germany to learn from their German counterparts how to incorporate on-the-job training.

This partnership is not unique to Kentucky; it exists in states across the country. And it is the template we must replicate across our communities and businesses. 

This approach has been long embraced in Germany, and it must become the standard in the United States. Because we all know that a skilled workforce is central to our successful economic future. 

We know that skilled workers mean more productive businesses. We know that expanded training translates into more money in the pockets of working families. In fact, research shows that 87 percent of U.S. workers who complete apprenticeships get good jobs and will make $300,000 more than their peers over their lifetimes. 

That is why, for the first time ever, the Department of Commerce has made skills and workforce development a top priority. That is why the Administration is investing $100 million in an upcoming apprenticeship grants competition, targeted at providing support for apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing, IT, and health care. That is why President Obama’s FY15 budget calls for a $2 billion investment in apprenticeships over 5 years – and why the President’s “Opportunity for All” agenda includes efforts to train Americans for careers in fields with high demand and the highest potential for growth. 

The Obama Administration is committed to supporting and extending programs that link classroom education with hands-on experience. To give you one example of the strength of that commitment: in April, I traveled with the President and the Vice President to Pittsburgh to announce investments in training efforts that respond to the needs of local employers. There, we unveiled $500 million in what are called “TAACCCT” grants – awarded to community colleges that partner with companies and national industry associations to expand job-driven training programs. 

Yet, for the sake of the success of our workers and the prosperity of our economy, we cannot stop with a single set of awards. We must do more. 

We should begin with efforts to educate and prepare our young people for high-quality jobs in the field of advanced manufacturing. Last week, at the Big M Convergence in Detroit, I announced a new initiative called M.Lab21. Led by SME and 3D Systems, the aim of M.Lab21 is to revolutionize the concept of high school shop classes. It will put high-tech 3D printing tools, along with inspiring curriculum and a robust on-line support community, into our schools. 

This type of effort is essential and critical to introduce our teenagers to the potential of a career in advanced manufacturing. But it is only a start. We must build on this foundation and develop a playbook for success. And that is exactly what the Administration is seeking to achieve through its Advanced Manufacturing Partnership – AMP – which I co-chair. AMP is piloting four apprenticeship programs, two of which are led by Dow, Alcoa, and Siemens. These companies are teaming up with community colleges in Northern California and Southern Texas to train welders to work with high-performance alloys and to train maintenance technicians. I want to applaud the work of Eric Spiegel, CEO of Siemens North America, who is on a panel here today, and I encourage all employers to follow their lead and reproduce these models that will spur job creation and grow our manufacturing capabilities. 

Whether it is through AMP, through the private sector acting on its own, or through collaboration between Germany and the United States, one thing is abundantly clear: we must continue investing nationwide in a stronger, better-prepared, well-trained, and well-educated workforce. 

Before I close today, I want to look ahead – to discuss how we can, and will, keep cooperating for the benefit of our businesses, our workers, and both of our countries. First, we know that our government still has much to learn from Germany and vice versa – so we are collaborating with the Departments of Labor and Education and ministries in Germany on a “cooperation agreement” to deepen our relationship, share our ideas, and formalize our commitment to exchange best practices in job-driven training. 

Next, we plan to re-establish the Department of Commerce National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship – NACIE – to focus on innovative practices to develop a globally competitive workforce and provide the Department key guidance to accelerate industry-driven skills training. 

The application window for new members to join NACIE opens today and I encourage you to apply by visiting the federal register website. Our goal is to attract leaders and experts from industry, the entrepreneurial field, academia, and workforce and training organizations to advise the Department on policies to spur innovation on the ground. 

Finally, we recently announced the second SelectUSA Investment Summit, happening March 23-24, 2015. SelectUSA is the first-ever federal government-wide effort to promote, attract, retain, and expand business investment to and within the United States.  Germany is a priority market for SelectUSA, and more than 50 German company representatives participated in the first summit last fall. For next year, we want to increase German participation. We want to offer German enterprises the unparalleled chance to interact with federal, state, and local officials, receive guidance from our agencies, and learn about opportunities to invest in our communities. 

U.S.-German cooperation is key to strengthen our economies and to secure a better future for our people. In few places is this more relevant or true than in skills development. I have personally seen how smart workforce training is a win-win for businesses and workers through Skills for America’s Future, located here at the Aspen Institute. This initiative was launched with the support of nationally-recognized employers and has become a leader in employer-led workforce training by expanding the number of employer-community college partnerships to provide workers with in-demand skills.That effort, like the Skills Initiative, must be only the beginning of a long-term, concerted, committed strategy to raise up the next generation of successful American workers, entrepreneurs, and enterprises. 

Our message is simple: America is open for business. To live up to that aspiration and to compete in the 21st century, it our responsibility to ensure we have an educated, flexible, and dynamic workforce. 

For the U.S.-German partnership to continue to thrive now and in the future, it is imperative that we always cooperate in a fashion that bolsters both of our nations. For the world to benefit from the ingenuity and innovation at the core of American and German success, it must be our task to keep making skills training a top priority – investing in our young people, empowering our middle class, strengthening our manufacturing sector, and securing a broadly-shared prosperity for all. 

Thank you for the invitation to be here today. Thank you for your work on the Skills Initiative. And thank you for keeping the U.S.-German relationship strong.