U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich said America needs to reeducate its work force, as he called for vocational training and job training for the unemployed in a speech Saturday at the Kennedy School of Government.
More than 200 people crowded into the ARCO Forum to welcome Reich on his homecoming to the Kennedy School, where he was a lecturer in public policy until his appointment to the Clinton administration in December.
Reich focused on the changes he foresees in the work force under the new administration. Although Reich named few specific items on Clinton's agenda, he did explain the basic goals for the U.S. Labor Department.
Reich pointed first to the need to reeducate the work force. "You need to invest in your front-line workers," he said. "We have the best system of higher education in the world,...but we have the worst system getting from school to work."
Reich proposed several solutions, including offering incentives for companies to train workers and designing schools that combine schoolwork and trade work.
Reich said labor is vital to a nation in a global economy, mentioning in support of his point successful companies that operate by considering their workers an asset instead of a cost.
"Workers are the primary asset of the company," he said. "To the extent that this [consideration for the workers] occurs, supply and demand meet."
Reich peppered his speech with humorous anecdotes from his years of teaching at Harvard and his encounters with political life in Washington D.C.
"I received the greatest compliment from someone in Washington as I was on my way up here," Reich said. "Some guy said to me before I left. I think you're doing a great job, despite what they say."
Following the speech, Reich answered questions about the future of American labor policy.
One member of the audience, who refused two requests from Reich to state his name, read a prepared statement to Reich claming that the proposals to encourage people to work were tantamount to slavery. Reich said he disagreed with that theory.
"There are 10 million Americans who are unemployed and who would love to work," he said. "What we have to do is make sure people have jobs."
Reich came to Harvard in 1981 and taught at the Kennedy School until he left in January for Washington, D.C., During the 1992 presidential campaign, he was a close advisor to Clinton and guided part of the transition between the Bush and Clinton administrations