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Opening remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the 7th American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Meeting with Ivanka Trump


Thank you, Ivanka. And thank you , for your vision in organizing the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board and for guiding our work over the past 18 months. This board’s focus and action makes it truly unique among federal advisory councils.

To our Board Members here in the Indian Treaty Room and on videoconference, thanks you for your continued civic commitment, and rapid, responsive engagement on behalf of American workers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We pray for the victims of the deadly virus, and also for those on the frontlines of our global battle against it. When we last spoke in May, Coronavirus had begun to introduce abrupt and difficult changes to daily life. But I have optimism as we make progress through the recovery period, and as our economy shows resurgence.

We’ve seen encouraging changes in the financial markets, in real GDP projections, and in the workforce – indicating that we are holding to a standard and steady pattern of economic recovery. In June, a record 4.8 million people returned to work. And employment continued to rise in July and August, with 1.7 million and 1.4 million jobs added to the U.S. economy, respectively.

Furthermore, the University of Michigan reported that consumer sentiment increased in September to its highest level since March with consumers’ views of current and future conditions both improving. Confidences in personal finances and business buying conditions are on the rise, showing an increase to 78.9 in U of M’s September U.S. Consumer Sentiment Index, up from 74.1 in August.

Manufacturing optimism has nearly doubled from 33.9 percent of manufacturers projecting a positive outlook for their companies in the second quarter, to 66 percent in the third quarter. Moreover, in August, NFIB showed an increase in its Small Business Optimism Index to 100.2, up 1.4 points over July’s outlook, and surpassing the historical 46-year average.

Our economy is indeed proving its resilience, due in no small part to President Trump’s success lowering taxes, reducing regulations, and implementing fair trading practices that level the playing field for American industry. We’ve seen these policies reduce unemployment and poverty to historic lows, as Ivanka mentioned, across demographic groups.

In 2019, unemployment fell to a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. And, with unemployment for minorities and women were at their lowest in recorded history. And the poverty rate in 2019 declined for all major race and origin groups, falling to 10.5 percent – its lowest since estimates were first released way back in for 1959. We are fortunate that these positive impacts, a direct result of the President’s policies, allowed us to tackle the Coronavirus fight from an initial  position of strength.

With that said, many of the underlying workforce challenges that you have been working on since before the pandemic’s onset will remain with us after it ends. So, it is important that this Board continue on in its mission.

Today’s meeting will be a little different than previous ones because we will largely focus on a single, transformative topic: Learning and Employment Records or LERs. As you know in Washington, we can’t help putting acronyms on everything, so LERs is a new one. These digital records of learners’ and workers’ skills, competencies, and experience can provide the technological backbone of a skills-based labor market.

From very early on, this Advisory Board made it a priority to “build on existing efforts to create an interoperable digital learning record that includes education attainment, nontraditional learning pathways, experience, professional affiliations, and other certifications to help job seekers attain high wage better jobs.”

I am happy that today we will all see the fruits of three unique and collaborative pilot efforts from IBM, Salesforce, and Walmart. Thank you, Marc [Benioff], for joining us and for your Salesforce team’s efforts.  I am looking forward to the presentations that you, Doug, and Ginni have prepared for us today, along with guests Adam Kaplan, Alex Caplan, and Andy Trainor.

After, we will hear from Scott Pulsipher and Governor Holcomb who will present a new White Paper on LERs that builds on lessons learned from the pilots and outlines a path forward.

The technology is fascinating, but what we need now are real examples of LERs providing real value to American workers, businesses, and educational institutions. The path forward will outline how government can do much more to support LER expansion and adoption.

Later, Tim Cook will update us on the Find Something New campaign, a terrific partnership with the Ad Council that helps connect workers with training and apprenticeship programs where they live.

Then, Barbara Humpton, Mike Piwowar, Al Kelly, and Johnny Taylor will present two new focus areas for this Board to take on through this year and into next year.

Again, thank you all for joining today’s important meeting. Our efficient discussions and the truly substantive actions that have followed from those discussions are thanks to the many hours that you and your teams dedicate to supporting American workers. On their behalf, thank you.