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Op-ed

Retraining will put America back to work

"When I grow up, I want to be a supply chain analyst."

You don't hear these words too often — but I'm hoping that changes fast. When I was a child, my siblings and I would sit around the kitchen table and tell our parents about the jobs we might hold as adults. My mother bought me a bag with bandages and a toy thermometer; I wanted to be a nurse. Radiologic technologist, debit card specialist and, yes, supply chain analyst just weren't common terms back then. But today these jobs — and thousands more — are providing opportunities and hope to people entering or re-entering the workforce.

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I know encouraging words can ring false in today's economic climate, but in times like these, knowledge is power. And when headlines like "Layoffs surge" and "Plenty of people still looking for work" make individuals feel powerless, it's vital to know about alternatives and resources.

I'm always thrilled on Labor Day Weekend to see Americans celebrate working people's contributions to our nation. This Labor Day, I encourage everyone to help spread the word about options and resources for those striving so hard to join the workforce.

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No matter where I go and who I hear from, American workers tell me, "We need more jobs." I agree. That's why I want every American to know about those industries that are growing, even now, and providing much-needed opportunity in the process. The right knowledge and assistance — especially training — are putting people back to work. In particular, they're a lifeline for people who thought they had a secure job and would never have to reinvent themselves.

Consider Telmy Alfaro, who is working part-time at a Maryland hospital and studying to becoming a registered nurse. While currently attending a community college, Ms. Alfaro gains skill and experience in the patient access department of the Prince George's Hospital Center, helping to register patients, answer the telephones, and provide translations for Spanish speakers. She plans to graduate with a degree as a registered nurse by 2013.

When Greg Matlock of Washington state lost a job he'd held for eight years, he enrolled in classes through his local One-Stop Career Center. After graduating with a wind turbine technician certificate, he is now happily re-employed in the recycling industry. Valerie Ibey, an unemployed mom of two in New Hampshire, found work as a machinist. A federally funded education and training program, along with courses through a community college and the company she now works for, gave her the credentials she needed.

In just one year, Workforce Investment Act Adult and Displaced Worker programs placed 685,000 workers in new jobs. Resources like these are helping workers across the country, including in Maryland. In fact, there are 15 One-Stop Career Centers just in the Baltimore area (see for yourself at http://www.ServiceLocator.org).

Maryland is actually gaining jobs — more than 8,000 in July — and most of these are in the private sector. Technology transfer from the state's strengths in medical and biotech innovation has companies seeking qualified workers.

The journey to a thriving workforce starts at America's kitchen tables, with dreams of a better future and jobs we never imagined as children — like medical records technician or energy efficiency engineer. It culminates with the high-quality jobs that will push us out of these difficult times and into economic leadership for many Labor Days to come.

Hilda L. Solis is the U.S. Secretary of Labor. For short-term training programs near you and information about grants, loans and scholarships, go to ww.CareerOneStop.org/EducationTraining.


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