Barack Obama photo

Remarks at the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference

March 09, 2015

The President. Thank you! Hello, mayors! Everybody, have a seat. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you, Mayor Becker, for the wonderful introduction and the great job that you are doing every single day. Everybody, have a seat. [Laughter] Sit down, take——

Audience member. I love you!

The President. I love you too.

It is great to be with the National League of Cities. We have about 2,000 local leaders here. We've got mayors, we've got councilmembers. We've got Republicans, Democrats, Independents.

Audience member. Independents—[inaudible].

The President. [Laughter] We've got some small-town leaders, we've got some bustling city leaders. But you all have something in common, and that is that every day you wake up ready to solve problems, and you know that people are depending on you to make sure your streets are safe, your schools are strong, trash gets picked up, roads getting cleared. You have to spend time thinking in very practical terms about whether people are getting good jobs and whether they're able to support a family.

So you don't have a lot of time for gridlock. You've got to get the job done. You don't have a lot of time for hot air. [Laughter] You—people are expecting you to deliver. And you're part of the reason why America is coming back.

Last month, our economy created nearly 300,000 new jobs. Unemployment rate ticked down to 5.5 percent, which is the lowest it's been since the spring of 2008. And all told, businesses have now created over 12 million jobs over the last 5 years—12 million. And the good news is, the pace has been picking up. Our businesses have now added more than 200,000 jobs a month over the last year, and we have not seen a streak like that in almost 40 years.

So we're well positioned, we're in a good spot to take advantage of not just next year or the year after, but decades to come. And we've got to keep positioning ourselves for a constantly changing global economy. That's something all of you understand. It doesn't matter whether you're the mayor of a big city or a small town. You understand that the economy is dynamic now, and you can't just stand still, you can't rest on your laurels.

And you also understand we've got to stay focused on middle class economics, the notion that our country does best when everybody is getting a fair shot and everybody is doing their fair share and everybody is playing by the same set of rules. And I have to say, the National League of Cities has been a great partner in this work. A great partner.

We've worked with many of you to lift the minimum wage while we're waiting for Congress to do something. [Laughter] And over the past 2 years, more than 20 cities and counties have taken action to raise workers' wages. You've passed sick leave laws, you've answered the Mayors' Challenge To End Veterans Homelessness. Nearly 200 leaders have stepped up to answer what we're calling "My Brother's Keeper," the challenge to create more pathways to success for our young people. Some of you are supporting our efforts to secure new agreements for trade that's free and fair in some of the world's fastest growing markets, because you know that there are businesses, large and small, in your communities that can be impacted, and we want to make sure our workers and our businesses can compete on a level playing field.

So there's a lot of work we've done together and a lot more we can do together to make sure that more Americans benefit from a 21st-century economy. And nobody knows for sure which industries are going to be generating all the good-paying jobs of the future. What we do know is we want them here in America, and we want them in your town, we want them in your cities, we want them in your counties. That's what we know.

So today I want to focus on something very specific, and that is, how can we work together to build a pipeline of tech workers for this new economy? Now, this doesn't just apply to San Francisco. This doesn't just apply to Boston. It applies across the board in every part of the country. Right now America has more job openings than at any point since 2001. So think of it—[applause]—that's good news, we've got a lot of job openings. Here's the catch: Over half a million of those jobs are technology jobs. A lot of those jobs didn't even exist 10, 20 years ago, titles like Mobile App Developer—[laughter]—or Userface Designer.

Now, we tend to think that all these tech jobs are in Silicon Valley, at companies like Google and eBay, or maybe in a few spots like Austin, Texas, where you've seen a tech industry thrive. But the truth is, two-thirds of these jobs are in non-high-tech industries like health care or manufacturing or banking, which means they're in every corner of the country.

See, there's no industry that hasn't been touched by this technology revolution. And what's more, a lot of these jobs don't require a 4-year degree in computer science, they don't require you be an engineer. Folks can get the skills they need for these jobs in newer, streamlined, faster training programs.

What's more, these tech jobs pay 50 percent more than the average private sector wage, which means they're a ticket into the middle class. And you all know better than anybody, this is an economic development issue, because when companies have job openings that they cannot fill, that costs them money. It costs them market share; it costs them exports. So they go looking for where they can find the people they need. And if we don't have them, that makes it harder for us to keep and attract good jobs to our shores or to your communities.

When these jobs go unfilled, it's a missed opportunity for the workers, but it's also a missed opportunity for your city, your community, your county, your State, and our Nation. And here's something else: If we're not producing enough tech workers, over time that's going to threaten our leadership in global innovation, which is the bread and butter of the 21st-century economy.

America is where entrepreneurs come to start the greatest startups, where the most cutting-edge ideas are born and are launched. But historically, that's because we've got great universities, we've got great research, and we've got great workers. And if we lose those assets, they'll start drifting somewhere else, companies will get started somewhere else, and the great new industries of the future may not be here in America.

Now, I refuse to accept that future. I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that release new jobs, whether it's converting sunlight into liquid fuel or leading a new era in personalized medicine or pushing out into the solar system, not just to visit, but to stay. We've got just this incredible set of opportunities, but we've got to have the workers for us to take advantage of it.

So today I'm announcing a new initiative that we're calling TechHire. TechHire. And it's going to be driven by leaders like you. So there are three big components to this.

First, we already have over 20 cities, States, and rural communities, from Louisville to Delaware, who have signed on to fill tech openings—they've already got more than 120,000 of them—in bold new ways. Let me give you an example. Employers tend to recruit people with technology degrees from 4-year colleges, and that means sometimes they end up screening out good candidates who don't necessarily have traditional qualifications; they may have learned at a community college, or they may have served in our military. They've got the talent, but employers are missing them.

So TechHire communities are going to help employers link up and find and hire folks based on their actual skills and not just their résumés. It—because it turns out, it doesn't matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are in writing code. If you can do the job, you should get the job.

And while 4-year degrees in engineering and computer science are still important, we have the opportunity to promote programs that we call, for example, coding boot camp, or online courses that have pioneered new ways to teach tech skills in a fraction of the time and the costs. And these new models have the potential to reach underserved communities: to reach women, who are still underrepresented in this sector; and minorities, who are still underrepresented in this sector; and veterans, who we know can do the job; and lower income workers, who might have the aptitude for tech jobs, but they don't know that these jobs are within reach.

Understand, within the tech sector, there are going to be tiers of jobs, all of which are tech, but they're not all the same. All right? There's still going to be the place—we still have to produce more engineers and advanced degrees in computer science at the upper tier, but there's all kinds of stuff that's being done within companies at different sectors that can create great careers for a long of people.

And so what TechHire is going to do is to help local leaders connect the job openings to the training programs to the jobs. And if you're not already involved in this, you've got to get involved, because your community needs this just like everybody else does. So that's the first component.

Second thing we're doing: We've got private-sector leaders who are supporting everything from scholarships to job-matching tools. So companies like LinkedIn are going to use data to help identify the skills that employers need. Companies like Capital One are going to help recruit, train, and employ more new tech workers, not out of charity, but because it's a smart business decision. All of this is going to help us to match the job to the worker. And the private sector will be involved in this out of self-interest, but it means that you, the leaders at the local level, are going to have to help create these platforms and facilitate this kind of job match.

Finally, we're launching a $100 million competition for innovative ideas to train and employ people who are underrepresented in tech. At a time when we all lead digital lives, anybody who has the drive and the will to get into this field should have a way to do so, a pathway to do so. So my administration is committed to this initiative. We've got a lot of private and nonprofit sectors leading the way. We want to get more onboard. But ultimately, success is going to rest on folks like you—on mayors, councilmembers, local leaders—because you've got the power to bring your communities together and seize this incredible economic development opportunity that could change the way we think about training and hiring the workers of tomorrow. And the good news is, these workers may emerge from the unlikeliest places.

So let me wrap up with just the example of one person, a woman named LaShana Lewis. Where's LaShana? She's here today. I hear she was here. There she is over there. There's LaShana.

Now, the reason LaShana's story is so relevant is, LaShana grew up in East St. Louis. She had a passion for computers. But because of circumstances, constraints—she wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth—she wasn't able to get a college degree, and because she didn't have a college degree, she couldn't even get an interview for a tech job, despite her coding skills. So she was working as a bus driver, and she was working in entry-level jobs.

But LaShana apparently is a stubborn person—[laughter]—which is good. Sometimes, you need to be stubborn. So she refused to give up on her dream, and she used her free time to teach herself new computer skills. And she started going to a coding "meetup" that was run by LaunchCode, which is a non-for-profit that finds talented people across St. Louis and gives them the training and credibility for the tech jobs employers are desperately needing to fill in—as we speak. So LaShana had the skills. LaunchCode went to bat for her. And today, she's a system engineer at MasterCard.

Now, LaShana—it's a great story, but understand this—MasterCard wants to hire more folks like LaShana. Moreover, 40 percent of LaunchCode's first class came in unemployed. Ninety percent of its graduates were hired full time, with an average starting salary of $50,000 a year.

So that's what's already happening, but it's happening at a small scale. And what we need to do is expand it. And in each of your communities, there is an opportunity to find talent like LaShana, help them get credentialed, help them focus the skills they've already got, work with non-for-profits, work with businesses, match them up. Next thing you know, you've got a systems engineer; they've got a good job. Companies are excited; they're able to expand. Your tax base is improving. You can reach out and train even more folks. You get on a virtuous cycle of change.

And it doesn't require huge amounts of money. It requires some planning and organization and coordination, and the Federal Government is going to be your partner in this process.

So we've got to create more stories like LaShana's. And if we do, then we are going to more effectively capture what is the boundless energy and talent of Americans who have the will, but sometimes need a little help clearing out the way. Help them get on a path to fill the new jobs of this new century.

And that's what middle class economics looks like. I said this weekend that Americans don't believe in anybody getting a free ride, and Americans don't believe in equality of outcomes. We understand that you've got—we've got to work hard in this country. You don't just sit around waiting for something to happen, you've got to go get it. But we do believe in equal opportunity. We do believe in expanding opportunity to everybody who's willing to work hard. We do believe that, in this country, no matter what you look like or where you come from, how you started out, if you're willing to put in some blood and sweat and tears, you should be able to make it and get a decent job and get a decent wage and send your kids to college and retire with dignity and respect and have health care you can count on and have a safe community.

You—we do believe that. And that's what I'm committed to doing these last 2 years. And I'm going to need the League of Cities to help me do it; work with you to build an economy where everybody shares in America's prosperity and everybody is contributing to America's prosperity.

Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:39 a.m. at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Ralph E. Becker Jr., of Salt Lake City, UT.

Barack Obama, Remarks at the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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