Lifelong Learning Summit

Tuesday, January 12, 1999

I want to thank all of you for joining us today for this important summit -- at over 1,000 satellite sites, in every state in America. We're here to talk about one of our greatest challenges: how do we give every American the chance to learn 21st Century skills, so they can fill high-paying 21st Century jobs?

This is a time of great prosperity for America. Just four days ago, President Clinton marked what is now the longest peacetime economic expansion in the history of the United States.

Today's economy is also a changing economy. We are now in the early stages of an information revolution -- not just in our high-tech industries, but in our core industries and manufacturing as well. Some of you may be familiar with a new fact of life known as Moore's Law, which explains that we are now doubling our computing power every 18 months, while the cost of computing power drops by almost 25 percent a year. Just think about the new productivity that is being unleashed -- at large and small businesses alike. Consider this one example: a Ford Taurus now has more computing power than the Apollo 11 that took us to the moon.

At the same time, car manufacturers have trimmed about 1,000 pounds from the weight of an average car by using lighter materials, smarter engineering, and more efficient engines. Throughout our economy, skills, intelligence, and creativity are replacing mass and money -- which is why, in the past 50 years, the value of our economy has tripled, while the physical weight of our economy as a whole has barely increased at all.

Clearly, today's workplace is becoming more high-tech, and more high-skilled. It is becoming more competitive, as we sell our products to billions of global consumers. And as CWA President Morty Bahr puts it: "Skill is the new source of security in the 21st Century."

With all that change comes a significant challenge: how do we make sure everyone has the chance to compete and win in this new knowledge-based economy?

A central answer must be a good education, and the ability to keep learning for a lifetime. Education can no longer stop after you leave high school, or even college.

Right now, our skill needs and our workplaces are changing quickly -- yet 75 percent of the people who will be working in the year 2010 are already in the workforce. That's one reason why the average age of students at community colleges is now 29 and rising.

The comedian Dana Carvey once put it this way: "I'm only 30 years old, but I read at the 34-year-old level."

In the 21st Century, we must make sure that everyone -- even those 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds, 50-year-olds and beyond -- can get the education and skills to rise with the tide of our new and renewed economy.

Many of our most crucial industries are facing shortages of the skilled workers they need. In manufacturing, 88 percent of companies are having trouble finding qualified applicants for at least one job function. One in five say they can't expand their businesses because their workers don't have the right skills. Think about that: the lack of skills and training is actually slowing down our economy!

Here are some compelling facts from a new report I am releasing today from our Departments of Education, Commerce, and Labor; our Small Business Administration, and the National Institute for Literacy:

And higher skills is one of the best investments a company can make. According to our new report, a 10 percent increase in education investments leads to an average productivity gain of 8.6 percent -- nearly three times the return on capital investments.

No wonder Jerry Jasinowski of the National Association of Manufacturers told me earlier today that there is no higher priority than lifelong learning -- that it is a way to increase productivity and workers' earnings at the same time.

Yet too many of our people are not getting the education and training they need --especially those that need it the most. As Mayor Clarence Anthony of South Bay, Florida reminded me at our roundtable this morning, for all our economic strength, too many are still being left behind. There are other challenges: some employers may worry that those who receive training will take their new skills elsewhere, or have very limited resources. Some individuals face serious barriers: lack of money, time, and information. In today's breakout session on the role of community colleges, you spoke about the special challenges of part-time learners -- those who have to keep working while they expand their skills.

We must overcome all these barriers together. For we are at the next great economic frontier. Once, land and capital were the key strategic resources. Now, knowledge is our keystrategic resource and learning is our key strategic skill.

In the past six years, with President Clinton's leadership, we have opened the doors to higher education wider than ever before -- simplifying our nation's job training system, helping to make at least two years of college universally available, and passing a tax credit of up to 20 percent off tuition for courses throughout one's lifetime. Now we must take the next bold step: we must find a way to make sure every American has access to the resources they need to keep learning for a lifetime. Buying lifelong learning should be as affordable and routine as buying a new appliance or financing a car.

That is why I am pleased to announce today that President Clinton and I will create a new advisory committee of outside leaders to explore ways to meet this challenge -- such as low-income loans, grants, tax incentives, and other ways to help adults get 21st Century skills for 21st Century jobs. In particular, we should explore ways to help Americans pool their own savings, contributions from their employers, and possibly also federal funds to pay for lifelong learning. We should consider creating lifelong learning savings accounts, to help people pay for the higher education they need to get ahead.

At the same time, we need to make high-quality education and training more widely available -- in the community and on-line. And we must ensure that all of our people have good, up-to-the-minute information and counseling on available jobs, the training needed to get those jobs, and the where to get the resources to pay for it.

Today, I'm pleased to make some brand new announcements that will move us closer to our shared goals.

First, I am calling on employers to provide more worker scholarships for the 21st Century, and I am proposing an expanded version of our current tax break to help them do so. This proposal will assure that employees can receive educational benefits from their employers tax-free -- for undergraduate or graduate courses.

Next, I am unveiling a new, $60 million plan to help train our workers for high-skill jobs in industries that face serious skill shortages. This new initiative will provide grants to regional partnerships of employers, colleges, unions, our new workforce investment boards, and others -- to help them identify skill shortages in their communities, and then connect workers to the training and jobs they need. As you concluded at today's sessions on high growth and on the needs of small businesses, regional skills alliances are the best way to meet our most vital skill needs -- industry by industry, community by community.

We must also help the 44 million American adults who struggle with a job application, can't read to their kids, or are stuck on the welfare rolls because they lack basic skills. As you discussed in today's breakout session on basic skills, education and training can play a powerful role in moving people from welfare to work.

I also know that in this morning's breakout session on workplace education, you focussed on the need to make it easier for employers to provide workplace education through targeted tax breaks. We hear that message loud and clear. That's why President Clinton and I are proposing a new ten percent tax credit for employers who provide literacy, English as a second language, and basic education programs. These new tax breaks will help all American get the skills they need for the jobs they deserve.

I am also creating a new 21st Century High-Skills Community Award. Just as the Baldridge Award recognizes companies with world-class growth strategies, this award will celebrate communities that build our economy by investing in our people.

To help every American understand the training they need and the training that is available, our Labor Department is creating a new on-line American Learning Exchange -- a website that tells people about the training and education opportunities in their community, and tells providers about potential enrollees. This website will also offer on-line financial counseling -- telling workers the kinds of resources available to them, and also the likely amounts they can apply for and receive.

Finally, in today's breakout session on labor-management partnerships, you spoke of the need for the federal government to highlight best practices, and you talked about new ways that labor and management can work more closely together to expand lifetime learning. We want to encourage exciting new partnerships across all sectors. That is why we are creating a new leadership group of top business executives, labor leaders, educators, and community leaders to find new ways, beyond the steps government can take, to dramatically expand lifelong learning. I look forward to your ideas, your energy, and your recommendations.

Let us realize that the if we truly want to meet this challenge -- if we want to give every American the chance to reach their highest potential, and soar as high as their dreams can carry them -- then we must do it together. It will take the best thinking of business, labor, educators, and community groups across the country. That is what I hope this Summit will unleash -- and it is why I am so eager to hear from you...


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