A Few Words With the Secretary of Labor at the Workforce Policy Summit

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis

One gripe I have with our recent Secretaries of Labor — both Republican Elaine Chao and now Democrat Hilda Solis — is that they don’t get out and get into many discussions about the state of America’s workforce and what they are doing to improve it.

Chao, as I wrote a couple of years ago, had a “do-nothing, empty-suit reign” and couldn’t point to a single, major accomplishment “except serving in Bush’s Cabinet longer than anyone else.”

Current Labor Secretary Solis is a lot more active than Chao, but much of the activity is the invasive, regulation-driven Washington-knows-best kind of stuff that dictates to employers and business in a heavy-handed and restrictive way.

That’s why I wanted to hear what Solis had to say today in her keynote address at the Workforce Mosaic Policy Summit,” hosted by the National Journal and sponsored by SHRM in Washington, D.C. The event convened “a panel of experts who will explore policy solutions on those key trends in an effort to help strengthen the U.S. workforce as its composition evolves.”

Video Q&A with Labor Secretary Solis

The three major trends, according to SHRM, are the “rapid growth in the non-white population, baby boomers staying in the workforce longer, and military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.” Those get a lot of discussion at this workforce summit, but there was also a good deal of talk about the aging of the American workforce as well as trouble getting older workers who are out of work retrained so they can get re-employed.

This is a key issue, as Ron Brownstein of the National Journal notes, because we’re in a “sustained period of elevated unemployment” yet employers say they are having trouble finding workers with the skills they need to fill jobs. Brownstein asks Labor Secretary Solis about this — her “keynote” is a Q&A with Brownstein similar to what Richard Branson did at the Opening General Session of SHRM’s Las Vegas conference — and what she had to say is worth listening to given that she has a key role in setting workplace and labor policies in the U.S.

You can find the video here (see below); the Labor Secretary starts her Q&A discussion around the 18:40 mark. One word of warning — National Journal has some of the most terribly invasive commercials I have ever encountered online, and they pop up loudly over the top of a speaker (like Secretary Solis) and drown them out for 30 seconds. It’s annoying and something you need to put up with if you stick with the video.

And another thing that jumped out from the video: see if you are as puzzled as I am about Hilda Solis talking about pipefitter apprenticeships turing into middle class jobs that pay $80,000 to $100,000 or even $150,000 a year. I’m not sure what she knows that I don’t, but I can only find salary data (on Indeed.com and Salary.com as well as Payscale.com) that shows pipefitters making in the $50,000 to $60,000 per year range. Is this inflated salary level for pipefitters wishful thinking on the part of Secretary Solis, or just what she wants for all unionized jobs?

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That’s hard to say, but take a look at this video and decide for yourself.




John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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