WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) -- Stressing the need to train workers for jobs of the future, President Barack Obama kicked off a government-wide review of federal job-training programs Thursday and pledged to expand the ones that work best.
Echoing themes from his State of the Union address, Obama cast improved job training as central to his efforts to make it easier for Americans to join and stay in the middle class. At a General Electric factory near Milwaukee, Obama signed a presidential memo directing Vice President Joe Biden to lead the review, and to work with cities, businesses and labor leaders to better match training to employer needs.
"Our economy's changing," Obama said. "Not all of today's good jobs need a 4-year degree. But the ones that don't need a college degree do need some specialized training."
Obama said he was ordering the "soup to nuts" review because not all the existing federal job-training programs do what they're supposed to. Reorienting programs, he said, would move the government away from its "train and pray" approach to job training, where "you train workers first, and then you hope they get a job."
Later in 2014, Obama said, the government will apply the lessons from Biden's review by holding a competition to award $500 million to design programs that partner community colleges with industry. The program will use the last remaining funds from an existing grant program, and each state will have at least one winner.
At the same time, he called on Congress to be more reliable in funding programs that are proven to work, while vowing he wouldn't let congressional inaction stand in the way.
"There are a lot of folks who do not have time to wait for Congress," Obama said. "They need to learn new skills right now to get a new job right now."
House Republicans pushed back in a letter that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders sent Obama on Thursday, arguing that Biden's review was duplicative because the Government Accountability Office already completed a comprehensive review in 2011 that identified redundancies. The leaders urged Obama to press the Democratic-led Senate to take up a Republican bill to consolidate programs and link training to available jobs.
White House press secretary Jay Carney couldn't explain Thursday how Biden's review would be different from the GAO's, but said that whenever Biden "is put in charge of an effort like this, it gets done, and it will be effective."
Before returning to the White House, Obama planned to stop in Tennessee to speak at Nashville's McGavock Comprehensive High School. As Obama's security detail prepared the school for his visit, grief counselors were helping students cope with the fatal off-campus shooting of a 15-year-old by a 17-year-old classmate.