Employing America Starts With Us

We're all worried about America's economic turmoil, millions of lost jobs, and Washington's "deer in the headlights" paralysis. We're facing the biggest challenges in decades. But while policymakers have temporarily lost their compass, the rest of us can keep our vision clear.

Let's go back to basics. America is a great nation because our liberty and freedom has fueled our creativity, innovation and enterprise. These qualities have led to industries that have fed the world, invented miracle drugs to save lives, and created technologies that increase the quality of life the world over. These successes have depended on America's skilled workforce with the know-how to create and build things better than anyone anywhere else.

But today, the average age of the American skilled worker is 55 years old; as a result, there will be shortage of 10 million skilled workers by 2020. With so many millions of skilled workers retiring, and our nation's training pipeline to graduate qualified applicants weakened by years of indifference, America's core asset -- our industrial strength -- hangs in the balance.

Skilled work is essential work. Without skilled workers, everything around us grinds to a halt. It's sad that some in Hollywood promote images of the skilled worker as shifty and unreliable -- certainly a far cry from the people who machine parts to a millionth of an inch for the space program or those who run the equipment that makes today's miracle pharmaceuticals.

We need 10 million skilled jobs by 2020. Without the jobs, companies close, entrepreneurs fade, and communities wither. All of us who live outside the Washington Beltway understand this.

Why do I know we can fix this? Since childhood, my passion has been to advance the cause of America's skilled workforce. I was raised in Bridgeport, Conn., one of the world's great manufacturing centers. My parents were skilled workers, and my extended family and community were self-reliant and proud of their work turning out the highest quality products. One generation invested the time to teach the next generation to build and fix things. From the earliest age, kids were encouraged to tinker and create, to fail and try again, and eventually succeed.

Roadblocks To Skilled Jobs

A vital part of American freedom is choice. It's a challenge to make sound choices about careers and post-secondary education in an increasingly complex world. One size does not fit all when it comes to career paths and education. Let's do a better job of encouraging young people to fully consider all their post-secondary options so that they don't overlook the benefits of careers in the skilled trades.

More and more skilled jobs require both college and technical education and training -- and are well-paid, to boot. Where we see cultural traditions and government limiting access to these opportunities, let's step up to make them available.

When I hosted the TV series "Made in America," most of the hundreds of entrepreneurs I met told me that government policies are hampering their ability to invest in more jobs. Business owners trying to expand their workforce are faced with understanding and complying with thousands of regulatory and tax issues in addition to the ever-present threat of abusive lawsuits. All this costs time and money that should be invested in new jobs.

Let's give our country's entrepreneurs the chance to do what they do best: create more jobs and help train workers. We share this challenge as a nation, over and above political, age, racial and gender differences. As President John Kennedy said, "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man." As Americans, we have the power to change things for the better as we've proven time and again.

The Solution Starts Locally

The "10 By 20 Pledge for America" campaign reminds all Americans that creating 10 million new skilled jobs by 2020 starts in our communities. It starts where we live and work, each one of us spotting the opportunities to get the next generation ready for good careers that will build our economy.

Let's encourage our children to tinker, and create an environment at home, school and community center in which skills are taught and valued. Schools can reach out to area companies, unions and other organizations to assist with skills training and job awareness. Companies can open their doors to schools, community and faith-based organizations so that young people can see, touch, and learn what they do.

Retired Americans can volunteer time to mentor young adults and those in career transitions so that valuable skills are passed on. Media can feature positive stories about skills training and skilled work to underscore the value to our communities and economy. (AOL has taken an important step with Jobs Week, its "Employing America" Project).

As a nation, we've always had the confidence and imagination to ask, "What if?" Many of America's greatest innovations started in the toughest circumstances. That's why I have hope for American skilled jobs. In this campaign, each of us can make a difference and our leaders will follow. We can't afford to wait for government to get started. Let's make it work!

Next:Future Jobs Are Child's Play

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