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October 5, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

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Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
Energy Skilled Trades Workforce
[WorkNet Pinellas, Inc.]
St. Petersburg, FL
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Thank you Dennis [Jauch, COO Pinellas County Technical Education Centers] for the introduction.

I would like to recognize:

  • Congressman Bill Young;
  • Rick Baker [Mayor, St. Petersburg, FL]
  • Monesia Brown; [Director of Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation]
  • David Welch [Chair] and EdPeachey; [WorkNet Pinellas, Inc.]
  • Representatives from the United Association of Plumbing & Pipefitters Local 123;
  • Bill Poppel; [Bechtel Corp.]
  • And the Faculty and students from the Pinellas County Technical Education Centers and the Withlacoochee Technical Institute

Thank you all for being here today!

Today, I am announcing the first of $10 million in grants to train workers for critical jobs in the energy industry. As Floridians know so well, the price of energy, including gasoline, is skyrocketing. Our country has not built a new oil refinery in more than 30 years, or a new nuclear plant since the 1970s. And Congress has placed limits on our country's ability to explore domestic sources of oil.

This Administration has been urging Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation since 2001. And we hope that the Congress will pass comprehensive energy legislation soon that will reduce our country's dependence on foreign sources of energy.

As our country rebuilds its domestic energy industry, it will need workers for these good paying jobs. So today, I am announcing the first in a series of grants to help workers get the training they need to access these good paying jobs.

This morning, Dennis and Ed escorted me on a brief tour of the campus. I had an opportunity to meet and talk with some of the apprentices who are training to become welders, and their employers. And it was so wonderful to see them learning these great skills.

As many of you know, the apprenticeship model uses the time-tested method of learning on-the-job, in combination with related classroom instruction. Currently there are over 900 active apprenticeship programs in the energy industries. And there are more than 5,900 apprentices in occupations such as power plant mechanic, boilermaker, and operating engineer. These numbers will continue to grow as the energy industry builds new facilities.

The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing & Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada has the first nationally registered apprenticeship program in the United States. They are represented on the Labor Department's Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship by Michael Arndt. He is a key advisor and partner with the Department and industry in strengthening the apprenticeship model as a solution to the shortage of skilled workers.

As you know so well, the U.S. energy industry is undergoing a dramatic transformation as advanced technologies revolutionize the traditional methods of energy extraction and refinement. And the renewable and alternative energy field presents a whole new set of opportunities for the industry that did not exist a decade ago.

At the same time, the energy industry, like others, is facing some key workforce challenges. Our nation's energy-related workforce is aging and the industry tells us they are having a difficult time finding highly-trained workers to replace them. For example, the average age of workers in the industry is now over 50 years. And the industry estimates that up to half of its current workforce — more than 500,000 workers — will retire within 5 to 10 years.

That is why the U.S. Department of Labor, which invests more than $10 billion annually on workforce training, has a role to play in helping to fulfill this critical need.

Today, the Department will be awarding nearly $10 million dollars in grants to 11 organizations across the country to train workers for energy-related industries. The targeted industries include renewable-solar energy, nuclear power, oil and natural gas, electric, biofuels, and electrical lines.

Today, I am pleased to announce the first grant — for $1 million, to WorkNet Pinellas Incorporated, as a result of the very competitive proposal they submitted.

Under the leadership of UA Local 123, this project will support a 16-week, full time CLEAN Energy program that will certify, license and educate apprentices for the nuclear energy industry. It will encompass 11 counties. Programs will be offered at the UA Local 123 Apprenticeship Center in Dover, at the Pinellas Technical Education Centers, and at the Withlahoochee Technical Institute in Citrus County.

This project will develop a pipeline — if you will pardon the pun — of certified welders to fill the critical shortage of skilled craftsmen needed to build the infrastructure that is needed for the nuclear power plants and industrial projects that are being planned for Florida. The goal of this grant is to help train and certify 450 welders over three years.

WorkNet, Local 123 and their staff deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the outstanding work they are doing for this region.

So congratulations! And thank you for everything you are doing to ensure that Florida has the workers it needs to help our country create new supplies of clean energy.

Now, let me invite Congressman Young, Monesia Brown, David Welch, Ed Peachey, Bill Poppel, Jimmy Hart and Andra Cornelius to join me so I can present this check for $1 million.

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