By Doug Maine
Speaking Friday at Capital Community College in Hartford, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis trumpeted the emerging class of Latino entrepreneurs, calling them the future of business development and urban revitalization in the United States.
Speaking with CTLatinoNews, Solis noted the statistics that show Latinos as an important resource who are key to the nation’s future success. “They’re the fastest growing population group. They also make up 15 percent of the labor force. There are 55 million Latinos in the U.S. and half are under the age of 15.”
Without investing in education and training, she said the country as a whole will not be able to thrive and compete globally. “It’s in our best interest to invest. Latinos create businesses and we know that the fastest growing community of entrepreneurs is Latina entrepreneurs,” Solis said.
Solis, the first Latina to serve in a presidential cabinet, said she believes most people aren’t short sighted and would want efforts to retool the workforce to continue and want everyone to be able to contribute and be successful.
“We can put the country back in the number one position in industry,” revitalizing Hartford and other cities that once had thriving industries, she said, “and what better way to grow them than with Latino leadership?” In many cities around the country, she said, its Latinos who are “bringing many of those communities back to life.”
Although she’s felt a sense of optimism when talking to people around the country, Solis said, “the situation is still very fluid,” especially with the high rate of unemployment among Latinos and African-Americans.
Economy and Latino workforce
Solis’ appearance at the community college, billed as “The Economy and the Latino Workforce: A Conversation on Education and Training,” drew an audience of mostly Capital students and faculty members, Democratic Latino officeholders and candidates, and representatives from the state Department of Labor and agencies involved in job-training.
The key is “to look at sectors that are growing, such as healthcare,” Solis said. “Healthcare is one of those sectors that I consider recession-proof,” and not all of the jobs in the field will require advanced college degrees; those with skills in record-keeping and who speak various languages will also be in demand, she said.
Skilled construction workers will also be needed to rebuild homes, commercial buildings, warehouses and infrastructure, Solis said.
People will go back to school if the program is affordable and they have confidence it will lead to a job once they graduate, Solis said. Over the next decade, nearly half of all job openings nationwide will be for “middle-skill” jobs, positions that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year college degree. These are white-collar, blue-collar and green-collar jobs that pay family-sustaining wages, she said.
Money in Green Jobs
For Latina women who have followed non-traditional career paths, and anyone else as well, Solis said pursuing work in green, or ecologically sustainable, fields could be a good option. Women and others who want to get into green industries should go to the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau page at dol.gov/wb, view the highlights and click on “Why Green is Your Color,” she said. “We also have a page called ‘My Skills My Future.’ These are basic information tools that are actually available right now,” she said.
“I happen to be one of the only cabinet members who benefited from a Department of Labor program,” Solis said. “I was able to access higher education. Once you start, it becomes part of your family goals.”
Solis congratulated her hosts at Capital Community College for its work as the only federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution in the state. “Hay muchos ganas, mucha ánima,” she said in Spanish. (In English: “There is a lot of willingness to do things and spirit here.”)
She was introduced by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, a Capital alumnus and a founder of the college’s Latino American Students Association.
Welcoming Solis, the mayor said, “Hartford is a great city with a lot of history, especially a history of innovation,” though it faces many challenges.
“We do have a lot to celebrate,” Segarra said. “The White House has a really strong commitment to communities in terms of things that can put people back to work.”
Education is essential
After making her prepared remarks, Solis sat facing the audience and answered questions that had been submitted in writing, with Segarra seated on one side and Capital student Mariano Cardoso Jr., on the other. Cardoso, a native of Mexico, was threatened with deportation until support from the public and elected officials resulted in the federal government granting him a stay of deportation in 2011. Cardoso has lived in the US since he was 22 months old, when his parents immigrated illegally to New York City.
Most of the questions were from students, who asked about the types of careers and education they should pursue, as well as opportunities for women.
Solis emphasized that strong skills in math and science and computer literacy are going to be essential in the next decade, noting with approval that Cardoso hopes to pursue a career in engineering.
“We as parents, we as families need to (make sure children and youths get) the message that education is the only thing that is going to help you progress,” Solis said.
Still, it can be discouraging even for those Latinos who excel in school and are accepted into top universities. “They get admitted, but there’s no mentoring, there’s no internships,” she said.
Then there is the cost of attending college, which Solis said the administration is addressing by looking at financial aid, keeping tuition costs low and finding less onerous ways for students to repay their student loans. “The federal Department of Education is looking at what universities are doing with the federal dollars they receive,” she added.
Solis also noted that the many 1950s-era science labs she sees in schools around the country need to be updated, “so we can compete in the 21st Century.”
$12 Million Grant
Solis also announced the Obama administration’s awarding of $12,096,394 to a consortium of state colleges for the development and expansion of innovative training programs.
“Right now we have a large number of people who aren’t ready to go to college, but they can come and get certification,” because of the flexibility of community colleges, said Solis. “We want partnerships with unions, with CEOs, community-based organizations,” to reach people who may not even have their GEDs.
The $12 million grant Solis announced is part of the $500 million federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative, which promotes skills development and employment opportunities in fields in which the greatest job growth is expected in coming years through partnerships between training providers and local employers.
Workers will be needed in advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers The U.S. Department of Labor is implementing and administering the program in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education.
Members of the consortium include Capital, Gateway Community College, Manchester Community College, Middlesex Community College, Charter Oak State College, Eastern Connecticut State University and Norwalk Community College.
“We have to retool our workforce,” she said. Noting that the U.S. had already lost 8 million jobs by the time President Barack Obama took office and that 4.6 million new jobs have been created in the past four years, she said, “There’s still a lot of unfinished business that we have to attend to.”
The labor secretary said that includes many of the nation’s post-9/11 military veterans who are out of work. “Some are in need of intensive therapy; some just need a helping hand from a businessman,” she said. A tax credit of up to $9,600 is available to businesses that hire a disabled veteran, she said. “We know those of us in the Latino community and in the larger community feel very strongly about supporting the vets.”
Richard Davis, future workforce-business services coordinator with the state Labor Department’s Capital Workforce Partners, who attended the forum, pointed out some of the services that are available. “We have a job funnel program, which the secretary has endorsed in previous years, which has been for construction (jobs),” as well as a program for post-9/11 veterans.
His colleague, Pamela Tonello, director of special programs, noted that one of Capital Workforce Partners’ community partners is the Center for Latinos program in Hartford. “I think it’s encouraging that the community colleges received that $12 million grant,” she said.
Photo by Doug Maine