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Former President Clinton Highlights Building Trades Training Programs in Bloomberg Interview

Bill Clinton CGI

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It’s been 13 years since Bill Clinton was President of the United States but his opinion is still considered the gold standard by many. In the now, this opinion is often delivered via his Clinton Global Initiative.  

Last week, the former President agreed to take questions from a panel of five civic and business leaders on economic issues for Bloomberg News.  His answers should act as a reminder of why so many Americans still revere our 42nd President.

Here is a sampling of the Q&A as it pertained to infrastructure, green energy, and the “skills gap.”  To read the entire transcript please visit Bloomberg News.

President Clinton on Infrastructure:

Q: Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor of Baltimore.

“Cities and towns across America are struggling with the issue of crumbling infrastructure and how to finance new investment. In older American cities, the potential for infrastructure failure can no longer be ignored. We know that infrastructure investment creates construction jobs immediately and lays the foundation for a stronger economy. How can we stimulate a more serious, bipartisan discussion about the importance of investing in America’s infrastructure on a national scale? And what can we learn from other nations that are making smart investments in roads, bridges, transit, water systems, and broadband?”

A.: “We clearly need to modernize our infrastructure, including better roads and bridges, smarter electrical grids, upgraded water, sanitation, and mass transit systems, clean energy and more energy-efficient buildings, and globally competitive broadband. And as Sandy so tragically demonstrated, the increase in extreme weather events means it’s even more important to act soon to make all our infrastructure more resilient.

This is also a huge economic opportunity to create jobs, attract private investment, and increase long-term economic growth and productivity. The most important thing we can learn from other nations is to budget more public funds for investment and to attract more private capital to infrastructure projects. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the U.S. needs $3.6 trillion in infrastructure investment by 2020.

The most promising opportunity for bipartisan cooperation is a national infrastructure bank, which would be seeded with a modest amount of public money, then mostly funded by private investment with an attractive and secure rate of return. Originally, this proposal had bipartisan support. If Republicans in Washington are no longer willing to back the bank, then state and city officials should establish their own.

Based on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s experience in Chicago, there is plenty of bipartisan support outside Washington for this idea. In fact, at last year’s CGI America conference in Chicago, Mayor Emanuel and 16 other mayors established the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Infrastructure Financing for Cities Task Force, and I’m glad to be working with them.

As you know from being on the task force, we’re learning from the challenges and successes in other cities. In your hometown of Baltimore, for example, Baltimore Housing and the city of Baltimore, along with more than 20 partner organizations, plan to eliminate 3,000 vacant residential buildings over the next three years-rehabilitating 1,500 properties and demolishing an additional 1,500. Besides eliminating dangerous, blighted structures, this will mean increased opportunities for quality housing and the creation of jobs and job training opportunities. It will serve as a model for cities facing similar issues.

President Clinton on the skills gap and Building Trades unions:

Q: Jorge Ramirez, president, Chicago Federation of Labor.

“The skills gap in America has nearly reached a crisis point. There are hundreds of thousands of unfilled high-skilled jobs, particularly in areas such as manufacturing, while millions of people are out of work. How do we reconcile this discrepancy so that businesses can maximize productivity and, more important, working men and women can secure meaningful, family-sustaining employment that builds a strong middle class?”

A: It’s been reported that over 3 million jobs remain unfilled in the U.S., even though 7.6 percent of Americans are unemployed. Employers say they can’t find qualified applicants, despite booming enrollment at community colleges and a plethora of other training programs.

Many low-wage workers and others who lack post-secondary credentials already possess valuable skills that aren’t reflected on a résumé. Getting people into courses or credentialing programs recognized by employers will allow job seekers both to better develop skills and to demonstrate them to employers.

At last year’s CGI America meeting, a group of participants started a conversation about setting competency standards for educational institutions and employers to place qualified workers in open jobs. As a result, the Business Roundtable, with support from the Joyce, ACT, and Lumina Foundations and Siemens, committed to evaluating how industry-recognized certifications can address the mismatch between what an employer needs and what a worker is trained to do. We need this kind of increased private-sector commitment to skills training, particularly when public resources continue to be a challenge.

Two years ago at CGI America, we received a commitment from the AFL-CIO that is a model of private- and public-sector involvement in job creation, energy efficiency, and skills training. Organized labor committed $10 billion of public and private pension assets to energy-efficiency projects and related infrastructure investments over the next five years. It pledged to train incumbent and entry-level workers for the skills to meet industry demands.

“The Building Trades unions, in partnership with employers, dedicate considerable resources to meeting the skills gap through their jointly managed registered apprenticeship programs. These respond to the needs of industry, equip workers with skills for not only a job but also a career, and don’t cost the government any money. We should promote more of these types of partnerships to develop successful models across industries.”

President Clinton on green energy:

Q: David Crane, CEO and president, NRG Energy.

“With the cost of solar panels now just 10 percent of what they were five years ago, how do we streamline the local approval process and reduce the friction costs so that U.S. homeowners can realize the solar value of their property while paying less for their electricity?”

A: “We need to develop in every state a network of cooperation in which contractors, utilities, building and home owners, tenants, and government agencies understand the shared benefits of solar energy and work together to accelerate its deployment. Our outdated energy grid’s outages cost the U.S. economy $25 billion or more every year, according to a recent Morgan Stanley study using Department of Energy data. Recent extreme weather events have had devastating effects on our aging infrastructure and make a stronger case than ever to build a more resilient and reliable energy system. Distributed solar energy will help us to build that resilience and reliability, both for the nation and for individual owners of homes and buildings.

Though innovative companies are speeding the deployment of solar panels, especially in states with financial incentives that reduce or eliminate the need to cover out-of-pocket expenses upfront, more needs to be done to push all our states to adopt user-friendly financing for solar panel purchases or leases.

Big differences in the level of financial subsidies from state to state, as well as limited financing options, continue to slow the adoption of the panels. Over the next two years, Clean Power Finance, an online marketplace for software and financial services, will join with researchers to develop a better understanding of how to encourage consumers to adopt solar power and how to make panels more affordable.”


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