Brown Statement on Rebuilding Economy Through Green Skills Training for Workers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (H.E.L.P.), attended a hearing today entitled “Empowering Workers to Rebuild America’s Economy and Longer-Term Competitiveness: Green Skills Training for Workers.” In response to the hearing, Brown issued the following statement:

Thank you to [Department of Labor] Secretary Solis. When we worked together in the House, green jobs was a policy idea.

Now it’s a reality, and your vision and leadership have contributed in no small measure to where we are today.

Green jobs are playing a significant role in our country’s economic recovery and in the revitalization of our nation’s middle class. 

I am looking forward to your testimony, and that of our second panel, and to discussing strategies for implementing the green jobs program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In particular, I am interested in your thoughts on the specific industries in which you envision creating these green jobs, and in what regions of the country you see a green jobs program having the biggest impact.

I’ve been holding roundtables throughout Ohio.  I held more than 140 roundtables since taking office to hear Ohioans’ thoughts on how to get our state economy and our national economy back on track.

One of the central messages I hear from dislocated manufacturing workers is that they need to update their skills to get jobs in emerging green energy and tech sectors of the economy.  They rightly perceive these sectors as a major force in economic recovery – locally and nationally.

About two weeks ago, I hosted a conference in Washington for Ohio’s college presidents. Senator Murray, in fact, was our keynote speaker and showed why she is such a leader on workforce policy.

One of the major topics that surfaced and resurfaced throughout the conference was actually a question: how do we better coordinate between institutions of higher education and sectors of our economy where there is unmet demand for workers?

The green jobs initiative is key to that effort.

Community colleges across the country are reporting a surge of unemployed workers enrolling in courses that offer training for green jobs. 

For example, at the Upper Valley Joint Vocational School in Piqua, students are learning how to install solar panels, repair and manufacture wind turbines, produce biofuels and do other work related to renewable energy. With ARRA funds, they could support even more students and manufacturers in Ohio.

Green jobs also include core manufacturing and services, like electricians, welders, and pipe fitters, who can transfer their skills from other industries to new green technologies.

There is no doubt that green jobs, along with jobs in other emerging industries, can transform our economy.  Aligning our educational system to the need for new skills training will go a long way toward turning the promise of green and other new manufacturing jobs into the reality of robust, U.S. economic growth. But we can’t rely on educational strategies alone to get there. 

We should also make the R&D tax credit permanent and pursue trade policies that are actually aligned with our trade goals. 

Making the tax credit permanent is a straightforward task.  Modifying our trade policy
should be a straightforward task, but is encumbered by ideological battles wrapped in misleading rhetoric.

Nonetheless, both tasks are essential.

Oberlin College, near Cleveland, has the largest building on any university campus in the U.S. fully powered by solar energy. However, Oberlin College had to buy the parts for its system from Germany and Japan because we do not make them in the U.S.
In Germany, employment in clean energy reached 260,000 in 2006 and is estimated to reach 500,000 by 2020.

There is no reason that workers in Ohio, or Washington, or California can’t be building the solar panels, the fuel cells, and the wind turbines that go into the production of alternative energy.

In fact, we are starting to already. Outside of Toledo, known for decades as “Glass City,” First Solar produces more thin-film solar panels than any other facility in the country.

Rising international demand has led the company to double the size of staff in the last two years.

We have a base of manufacturers and expertise in Ohio that, if supported, can lead the state and the nation.

At roundtables and other forums, I often ask people to tell me what American manufacturing will look like in 10 or 20 years.

I’ll end by posing that question to you and the second panel, and look forward to your thoughts.

Thank you, Madam Chair.
 
Brown recently introduced the “Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act of 2009. This bipartisan legislation would support the development of specialized workforce training programs to meet regional workforce needs of emerging industries. In addition, Brown successfully passed an amendment to the Senate Fiscal YEAR 2010 budget that invests in sector-specific workforce training strategies.

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