During his stop Thursday at a GE engine facility in Waukesha, Wisconsin, President Obama encouraged workers to seek training for in-demand jobs, such as in the skilled trades.
President Obama touted his economic policies to hundred workers and Democratic Party leaders packed into a manufacturing room at GE, saying they’ll lead to a breakthrough year for America in 2014.
“We’re at a moment where businesses like GE have created 8 million new jobs over the past four years. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in more than five years. Our deficits have been cut in half, housing is rebounding, manufacturing is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s,” Obama says.
The president lauded GE for its regional training program. He says the proper skills can yield a decent paycheck and career in manufacturing.
“Not all of today’s good jobs need a four year degree. But, the ones that don’t need a college degree do need some specialized training. We were looking at some of the equipment here. It’s $5 million equipment. GE’s going to be a little nervous putting you there on the first day and saying here, run this thing,” Obama says.
The president says a big challenge the country faces, is aligning skills and job openings.
“So what we’re going to do is, we’re going to review all federal job programs, soup to nuts, and then we’re also going to be supporting local ones. I’ve asked Vice President Biden and top officials in the federal government to reach out to governors, mayors, business leaders, labor leaders, let’s find out what programs are working best and let’s duplicate them and expand them,” Obama says.
The president says the federal government will invest $500 million in the initiative. He also called on Congress to boost the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Dan Stitt of Milwaukee was among dozens of GE workers who listened to the president's speech. Stitt says he was pleased with what he heard, but wishes job training would have been on the front burner years ago.
“The only problem is time. Those are things that we should have been working on a lot longer. I think time is still going to hurt us with some of that stuff. We’ve got to get people trained and get them to work now,” Stitt says.
Across the street from the plant, several dozen people braved snowy conditions to protest the president’s visit. Andy Hemken of Big Bend carried a sign reading “Obama’s Failed Agenda Tour.” Hemken says he lost his job as a safety consultant a few years ago. Now, he’s a beekeeper, frustrated by red tape.
“So, now I’m in the honey business and the federal government now has new food safety rules that are going to force me to spend more money than I make in a year or two,” Hemken says.
Waukesha leans heavily Republican. President Obama says he came to highlight positions both the GOP and his Democratic party can agree upon. He won Wisconsin in 2012, but a recent poll shows his approval rating sinking to its lowest level since that time – 44 percent.