Emphasizing themes from his State of the Union address, Obama cast improved job training as central to his efforts to make it easier for people to move up into and stay in the middle class. At a General Electric engine factory near Milwaukee, he signed a presidential memo directing Vice President Joe Biden to lead the review, and to work with cities, businesses and labor leaders to better match training to employer needs.
"Not all of today's good jobs need a four-year degree. But the ones that don't need a college degree do need some specialized training," Obama said.
Obama said he wants a "soup to nuts" review because not all federal job-training programs do what they're supposed to. He said he wants to move the government away from a "train and pray" approach to job training, where "you train workers first, and then you hope they get a job."
The findings from the review will be applied later in the year to a competition to award $500 million in existing funds to design programs that pair community colleges with industry.
Obama called on Congress to be more reliable in funding proven programs, while vowing not to let congressional inaction stand in the way.
"There are a lot of folks who do not have time to wait for Congress," Obama said. "They need to learn new skills right now to get a new job right now."
House Republicans pushed back in a letter from Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other GOP leaders to Obama on Thursday, arguing that Biden's review was duplicative because the Government Accountability Office identified redundancies in a comprehensive review it completed in 2011. They urged Obama to press the Democratic-led Senate to vote on a House-passed bill to consolidate programs and link training to available jobs.
White House press secretary Jay Carney couldn't explain how Biden's review would be different from the GAO's, but he said that whenever Biden "is put in charge of an effort like this, it gets done, and it will be effective."
At a high school later in Tennessee, Obama renewed his call for Congress to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs, and touted his pledge to ensure almost all students have access to high-speed Internet.
"I want to build on what works. But to do that, we've got to reach more kids, and we've got to do it faster," Obama told students at Nashville's McGavock Comprehensive High School.
Obama also announced Thursday he's secured commitments from major U.S. companies to support efforts to increase hiring for the long-term unemployed, a lingering problem as the U.S. economy gradually recovers from recession. Obama told CNN that Walmart, Apple and Ford are among the companies that will participate in a White House event Friday to outline the partnership.