American Technical Training Fund: Creating a Strong Training Pipeline to Middle-Class Jobs

Juan Rodriguez is a 33-year-old son of migrant farm workers and the father of three school-aged children. He recently earned an associate’s degree in welding technology from Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWIT).

Before enrolling in the training program, Juan had been laid off from his job and was relying on unemployment benefits and federal food assistance to support his family. After graduating, Rodriguez was hired as a quality manager at Skyline Steel’s manufacturing mill. He has since moved his family to Texas, where he works as a welding engineer for Kiewit Offshore Services and earns more than $100,000 a year.

He credits the education and training he received at LWIT with helping him reach his dream of securing a good job that allows him to support his family without public assistance.

Rodriguez is just one of many Americans who has benefited from high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs, which is why the American Technical Training Fund is so important.

President Obama recently proposed a bold plan to make two years of community college free for all Americans who are willing to work hard toward graduation. In addition to America’s College Promise, the President’s FY 2016 budget request includes a proposal to create a new $200 million American Technical Training Fund that would expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs that are aligned with the workforce needs of employers in high-demand industries.

This new fund would enable the creation of 100 technical training centers across the country, modeled on the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT), which have achieved impressive program completion and job placement rates with many non-traditional postsecondary students.

The President’s proposal comes at a time when earning a college certificate or degree has never been more important. In fact, some level of postsecondary education or training has become a prerequisite for joining the middle class. Labor market projections show this trend is only going to increase. By 2020, economists predict that nearly two thirds of all jobs will require some level of education and training beyond high school. However, less than 60 percent of Americans 25 years and older currently have this level of preparation. We also know that the U.S. needs to dramatically improve the skills of its adult population. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD)most recent Survey of Adult Skills, about 36 million working age adults in the U.S. scored at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels. We are risking America’s ability to be economically competitive if we ignore the call to increase the education and skills of our adult workforce.

If authorized by Congress, the American Technical Training Fund will help more community colleges and other postsecondary institutions develop and scale high-quality training programs aligned with the needs of employers in high-demand industries, ensuring more hard-working students will have access to the kinds of life-changing opportunities that Juan Rodriguez and countless others like him have benefited from.

Johan Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) and Mark Mitsui is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges at the U.S. Department of Education.


  1. There is considerable value in a learning environment that is actual and not simulated. Community colleges cannot and will not accept that. Training should be conducted on-site whenever possible, it’s called “contextualized learning”. I deal with educators all the time that just will not accept the fact that learning can take place in many different environments, they are not the only game in town. They continue to ignore the fact that many come to them with minimal basic skills, especially math. But if they taught to the math needed in a particular profession, it would facilitate learning. Math for a nurse is far different than math for a carpenter, but we don’t address that, and it is critical when dealing with adult learners. I just see this as another way to throw money at the colleges. It happened with machine tooling, millions poured into it and none going to the students in the form of financial assistance. Colleges built additions and purchased machines that will be obsolete in 5 years. Waste of taxpayer dollars. And when they rolled out the program on one campus, they had 5 students sign on. Not a stellar success, by any means. The money would have been used more efficiently if they had approached industry to determine their needs, and worked on developing programs within companies.

  2. Community colleges will never be able to meet the challenges America faces as long as those in a position of hiring continue to insist that everyone teaching there have a minimum of a Master’s Degree and 18 graduate credits. They are ignoring all the talent that does not have this particular background. This talent would be an enormous, positive resource.

  3. What an incredible opportunity to increase opportunities for access to sustainable living wage for all but especially for people with barriers such as disabilities.

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