On the road together in Oakdale, Pa., President Obama and Vice President Biden announced $600 million in new grants for training and apprenticeship programs that will help Americans develop the skills employers are looking for when they hire.
In a rare joint public event, the pair appeared at the Community College of Allegheny County in a suburb of Pittsburgh.
The president noted that while the country is recovering as a whole, people at the top of the economic ladder are doing far better than those at the bottom. That shouldn't be the case for those who are willing to work hard, even if that doesn't mean pursuing a college degree, he said.
"There's not a job out there that's going to pay a lot if you don't have some sort of specialized training. So our best bet is keeping ahead in the skills race," the president said.
"Everybody who works hard and takes responsibility deserves to get ahead. That is what this country is built on," he added.
In keeping with the president's pledge to find ways to work around Congress, the initiative requires no new spending. Still, the president told the audience that, "every single person you send to Washington" should be looking for ways to boost opportunity.
The initiative relies on $500 million in existing Labor Department funds that will be put toward a competition that invites community colleges, employers and industry to work together to create training programs geared toward unfilled jobs.
Another $100 million in Labor Department money will fund apprenticeship programs in growing fields like information technology, advanced manufacturing and health care.
The popularity of apprenticeships has dropped in the U.S. in recent years although it is a popular way to train workers in foreign countries. In 2013, there were 287,750 people working in national registered, non-military apprenticeships. That number is down from 2002, when it was 469,238 people, according to Labor Department data.
The president has pushed this type of training as a way to boost the economy, and in his State of the Union address in January he tasked Biden with conducting a review of the federal job-training programs with an eye toward ways to reform them. The results are due at the end of July.
House Republicans argue a more effective way deal with federal job training for the Senate to take up the SKILLS Act, a bill that would streamline 35 ineffective and duplicative programs as identified by a 2001 Government Accountability Office report, among other things.
"When it comes to skills training, our first priority should be reforming our current, outdated maze of programs so that they make sense for people in today's dynamic economy," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.