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Bill to fill job skills gap sparked by visit here

For U.S. Senator Al Franken, D-Minnesota, July 22 was an exciting day.

He watched the White House bill signing of a bipartisan workforce investment legislation that he helped shape and get passed through the Senate.

His inspiration for the bill? Alexandria.

“Alexandria is what started it for me,” Franken said in a telephone interview last week with the Echo Press. “I went there not long after I became senator and visited the Alexandria Community and Technical College, which is one of the best in the country. What you are doing there really impressed me.”

Franken said the ATCC was an innovator in integrating job training skills in the local high school and forming partnerships with local manufacturing companies.

“Alexandria is like the Silicon Valley of the food packaging machine industry,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons Douglas County’s unemployment rate is more than 2 points lower than the rest of the state. I saw a synergy between the ATCC and businesses like Douglas Machine and Alexandria Industries.”

Encouraging those kinds of partnerships are a key part of the recently signed legislation, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

Franken said he fought to include provisions that will bolster partnerships between community and technical colleges and businesses to train workers with the skills for jobs employers currently have open.

With more than 3 million jobs around the country that could be filled if workers had the right skills, Franken said that the new law – the first real reform to the nation’s workforce development system in 16 years – will help a lot of Minnesota businesses fill those open jobs.

Franken added that the new legislation couldn’t have been passed without Republicans and Democrats working together. “This is a big win for workers and businesses,” he said.

The new law calls to create a competitive grant program to help support partnerships between businesses and two-year colleges. Franken said he will continue working to pass his “Community College to Career Fund Act” to give those partnerships a bigger shot in the arm.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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