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Biden promotes training in West Side stop

Student James Cantway introduces Vice President Joe Biden at Renton Technical College in Renton, Wash., on Thursday. (Associated Press)
Student James Cantway introduces Vice President Joe Biden at Renton Technical College in Renton, Wash., on Thursday. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

RENTON, Wash. – Vice President Joe Biden visited a small community college in a Seattle suburb to deliver the message that America’s “middle class is hurting,” but with the right training, the nation’s workforce can grow along with the economy.

Armed with new federal labor and training grants, schools like the Renton Technical College are helping change the country’s psychology to an “I can do this” mentality, Biden told a group of students and instructors crammed into chairs in a hallway of the community college, which specializes in apprenticeships, engineering and manufacturing degrees.

Biden’s college tour with Washington’s two Democratic senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and his talk were one of his last stops on a West Coast trip that began Monday in Las Vegas, where he promoted raising the minimum wage. On Wednesday, he was in Portland to help Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley with his bid for a second term. Thursday afternoon he spoke to about 800 people at the Women of Valor lunch put on by Cantwell.

The Renton school split about $10 million that was shared with a consortium, according to a spokesman for the vice president. Last week, the entire Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant awarded $450 million to 270 community colleges across the country. The grants gave schools funds to partner with employers and help job-seekers secure skills for jobs in industries like information technology, health care, energy and advanced manufacturing, a spokesman said.

School spokeswoman Kendra Smith said 6,700 students attended the college last year.

Current student Cindy Ernest of Seattle said that at age 57, she’s not the oldest at the school. She was a preschool teacher for 16 years, but she had to stop after her knee-replacement surgery, she said. Now she’s learning medical coding skills that will allow her to get a new and higher-paying job, she said.

Biden said community colleges are “the country’s best kept secret,” and said his wife, Jill, teaches at a college in North Virginia where the average student age is 31. He praised the people in the crowd, saying “you’re providing pathways back to the middle class,” he said. “You’re building dreams here, man.”

Biden joked that he’s always talking about the middle class, “and I’m referred to as ‘Middle Class Joe’ in Washington.” But the middle class are the backbone of the economy, so the administration is trying to generate more middle class jobs, he said.

The country will need to fill 1.4 million information technology jobs in the next decade and will need 600,000 registered nurses in the next few years, he said. The average annual pay for these positions will be in the $65,000 to $75,000 range.

“You can live a middle-class life armed with that,” he said.

In addition to advanced manufacturing jobs and solar-panel installers, it’s estimated there will be 150,000 jobs available each year for the next five to 10 years just in aerospace, he said.

“Good-paying jobs,” he said.

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