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Obama calls for action plan tying training programs with jobs

President Barack Obama seeks to do administratively what Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., has tried to accomplish through legislation: tie federal job training programs closer to the job market.

Obama issued a memorandum Thursday instructing the Labor, Commerce and Education departments to develop an action plan to make training programs “more job-driven, integrated, and effective.”

The president’s initiative would include “promoting more active engagement” among employers and training programs to identify the skills, education and credentials that workers need for available jobs.

The action plan also calls for training programs to improve the accountability of their outcomes – jobs and worker earnings.

Donnelly said the White House effort aligns with two bills he has been pushing: the America Works Act, which he co-sponsored, and the Skills Gap Strategy Act, which he introduced.

America Works training programs would emphasize math, science, engineering and technology skills; under the Skills Gap Strategy Act, employers would provide more input into the content of training programs, and the federal government would increase opportunities for apprenticeship and on-the-job training.

Both bills were assigned to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Neither has received a hearing.

Donnelly recently said he pitched the legislation Jan. 15 when Democratic senators met with Obama at the White House. He followed up with a letter to Obama.

“Today’s announcement is a great step toward closing the skills gap,” Donnelly said Thursday in a statement about Obama’s directive.

“I have long said that we must do a better job of training the Hoosier workforce so we can fill the tens of thousands of jobs currently going unfilled around our state.”

Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a review of federal training programs. Donnelly’s office said the senator spoke to Biden after Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday, in which the president said training programs should “train Americans with the skills employers need and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.”

Obama talked about his initiative Thursday during a visit to a General Electric engine plant in Waukesha, Wis. According to a transcript released by the White House, Obama said the federal government needs to “move away from what my labor secretary, Tom Perez, calls ‘train and pray’ – you train workers first, and then you hope they get a job.”

Obama also said that “we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to expand apprenticeships.”