Remarks by the First Lady at the Business Roundtable CEO Workforce Forum

March 06, 2024

[As prepared for delivery.]

Thank you, Mr. Kirby. With your leadership, United has given so many young people the opportunity to soar. Through programs like your partnership with Houston High Schools, you've opened up a world of possibility to students across the city.

I'm grateful to Chuck Robbins and the Business Roundtable for inviting me to join this event.

When this group puts its mind to something, it's powerful. That's why today, I want to talk to you about an issue that's important to our economic success, an innovation that will help your companies grow: career-connected learning that starts in high school.

Last year, I met a young woman named Lilly in Arizona.

When she graduated high school, she wasn't sure what she wanted to pursue. And, as one of six siblings, she didn't want her parents to go into debt for her to go to college. She got a job, but it didn't pay well and she couldn't see a future for herself.

Looking for a way to unstick her life, she reached out to the Vice Principal at her old high school. That administrator helped Lilly apply to a free community college program.

And there, after a little exploring, she found a career in construction management.

In her area of Arizona, with the help of President Biden's investments, construction is booming. Semiconductor factories are expanding, biomanufacturing facilities are being built, battery plants are going up, and businesses are looking to hire tens of thousands of skilled workers.

Lilly graduated from community college a few weeks ago, and is ready to continue in construction.

But Lilly almost didn't get on this path. And a growing industry almost missed out on her talent. There are countless high school students like her across the country – who are smart, ambitious, and hardworking, but who just need guidance, who just need a program to show them the career paths available.

We want to help your businesses connect with those students by building career pathways earlier, starting in high school.

I teach at a community college not too far from here and I see first-hand how students out of high school have no idea what they're doing next.

A lot of high school students don't necessarily know how to get from earning their diplomas to earning a living. They may not even know what roles are out there.

That's why we need to transform education, so that it does a better job of preparing students for careers.

Nearly 60 percent of graduating high school students don't go directly to a four-year college.

Six out of every 10 students.

Are high schools designed to meet the needs of those students – the majority – who won't go directly to a four-year university?

Too many schools aren't.

That's why the Biden Administration is transforming our education system – reimagining the four walls of a high school and turning them into spaces where students can try out different careers, explore their interests, and discover how to turn those interests into good-paying jobs.

And we need you to be a part of that vision.

I believe in evidence-based models, not just theories.

We know this works.

An Oregon study found that students who concentrated in a particular career area graduated high school at higher rates and went on to earn higher wages as adults.

So, why does high school matter to your business?

Not because it will change lives like Lilly's – though it will. But because it will help your bottom line.

My husband has created nearly 15 million new jobs since he took office.

We have to make sure we're training workers to fill them. I know you're focused on this too – we've heard from many of you that with low unemployment, it can be a challenge to find the workers you need.

That's why we need you to be a part of our efforts to reimagine the high school experience.

Work with high schools and community colleges to build a career-related curriculum that prepares students for working in your fields; create apprenticeships and other work-based learning programs across the country; and invest seriously in these programs.

Because ultimately, these efforts will help you find workers like Lilly, and help you grow your businesses.

Some of you are already doing this work.

IBM helped build a model for New York high schools to provide college credits and work experience.

Aon's registered apprenticeship program in Chicago combines in-class learning at a local community college with on-the-job training. I saw the power of that when I visited its headquarters two years ago.

And last month, when I was in Wisconsin, I met leaders from one of the state's largest health care providers, Bellin Health, who are partnering with high schools to train the next generation of workers.

But we need more of you to follow this example.

You know better than I do that to thrive, businesses have to innovate – have to be ready for every curve, ready to capture every opportunity. And there are certain moments that ask you to take a leap toward the future – to look ahead with vision. To make a change today that will open up all the possibilities of tomorrow.

This is one of those moments. Career-connected learning is that change.

Don't look back in 20 years and wonder why other companies left you behind – why you can't fill the roles you need.

Now is the time to change how you hire – invest in the next generation that will keep growing your companies. Invest in students like Lilly.

Thank you.

Jill Biden, Remarks by the First Lady at the Business Roundtable CEO Workforce Forum Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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