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Small businesses pledge to support workforce development & training

Small businesses pledge to support workforce development & training

By Linda McMahon, Former SBA Administrator
Published: August 2, 2018 Updated: August 2, 2018

Melissa Wegman’s family has owned a small business in Ohio for 51 years, but she’s worried about finding the skilled workers she needs to ensure the modular furniture systems company continues to grow.

“With the economy as strong as it is, we are looking feverishly for people who want to work with their hands,” she told me at a roundtable I hosted in Cincinnati last week.

Under President Trump’s leadership, America’s economy is booming. Last quarter, the GDP grew at 4.1% -- the highest rate in four years. The unemployment rate is at a healthy 4%, with more people entering the workforce to fill the good jobs employers are now creating. Entrepreneurs are starting and growing small businesses, and large businesses are again investing in America. All of this is terrific news, but it’s creating a new challenge for employers like Wegman. For the first time, there are more open jobs in this country than workers available to fill them.

To meet the challenge, President Trump has signed an executive order establishing the National Council for the American Worker. It aims to develop an integrated strategy to bring employers, unions and educational institutions together to develop apprenticeship programs and curricula to train workers with the skills employers need. I’m honored to serve, along with several of my fellow cabinet members, on the Council to help America's students and workers gain access to affordable, relevant and innovative education and job training.

While many of the nation’s largest employers joined the President in announcing this initiative and pledged to support it, small businesses as well as large corporations have a stake in its success.

We need a workforce that’s ready to go to work. To achieve this, we need to change the paradigm in education. We need to promote vocational and technical education, with schools and the private sector working together. Some small businesses and corporations are even contributing equipment to vocational schools or community colleges. Students train on the very equipment they’d be using on the job, and often have a job offer waiting for them when they graduate. In July I visited the BridgeValley Community and Technical College in Charleston, West Virginia, where Toyota is doing exactly that. Students spend two days a week in class in the technical school and three days a week on the floor of a Toyota factory, being paid for their work. They’re learning and working at the same time, earning money to offset some of their expenses. As head of the SBA, I’m encouraging small businesses to do this as well – to say to educational institutions in their communities, “This is what we need, how can we help you design curriculum?”

To that end, we are asking small business owners to pledge to invest in the advancement of our current and future workforce by providing individuals with opportunities to develop skills that will help them succeed, not just in their current role but throughout their careers. Those who sign the pledge agree to invest in both students and workers by providing opportunities for education and training that will help more Americans thrive in the modern workplace. Over the next five years, signers pledge to support increased apprenticeships and work-based learning programs, continuing education and on-the-job training.

This isn’t just about STEM careers. We hear a lot about the need for science, technology, engineering and math skills, but we also need carpenters, plumbers, electricians and welders. Foxconn is planning to create 13,000 jobs requiring technical skills at a factory it’s building in Wisconsin. But before they can hire them, they’ll need 10,000 construction workers to build the facility itself.

Since launching the National Council for the American Worker two weeks ago, I have held two roundtables with small business owners. A dozen of them have signed the pledge, together committing to support over 367 new career opportunities through job training and education.

Melissa Wegman signed the pledge, noting she wants to change the perception about manufacturing jobs. She says her employees feel accomplished, leaving at the end of the day having created something that wasn’t there when they came in. “We install modular furniture systems; however, if you ask my employees what they do, they’ll say they change lives every day. They make a difference by making somebody’s workspace more comfortable, which makes them happier, which makes their company more profitable and their personal lives better.”

Sounds like a good job to me!


Administrator McMahon with small business owners who signed the pledge
in Louisville and Cincinnati

Administrator McMahon with small business pledge signers in Louisville, KY
Administrator McMahon with small business pledge signers in Cincinnati, OH


About the Author:

Linda McMahon
Linda McMahon

Former SBA Administrator

Linda McMahon served as the 25th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) from 2017 to 2019. As a member of President Trump’s Cabinet, she advocated on behalf of the 30 million small businesses in America.