State News

During Burlington visit, Jill Biden touts White House’s investments in education, workforce development

By Sarah Mearhoff/VTDigger

In her first trip to Vermont since her husband assumed the presidency in January 2021, first lady Jill Biden visited Beta Technologies in Burlington on Wednesday, April 5, where she and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona touted the White House’s efforts to fund workforce development and technical education.

As she walked into the aerospace developer’s hangar, located next to Burlington International Airport, Biden shouted a cheery “hello!” to the Beta employees and interns, students, Vermont lawmakers and press awaiting her inside. When she realized that dozens of Beta employees were eagerly watching from the other side of a window separating their offices from the hangar, she beamed up at them, waving with two hands.

Flanked by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., Jane Sanders (whose husband, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was unable to attend) and Democratic mayor of Burlington Miro Weinberger, Biden and Cardona listened as Beta interns and technical students from the Northeast Kingdom described their hands-on work, as well as the technical training and dual enrollment courses they have taken along the way.

As one Beta intern, Colton Poulin, described his work on Beta’s aircrafts to Biden, the first lady peered inside the plane beside her. 

“For most people, a high school diploma alone isn’t enough to find a great career, but they don’t often need a four-year degree to pursue their passions either,” Biden said at the hangar. “And as this technology brings changes to so many industries, these kinds of learning paths are more important than ever.”

Biden and Cardona also met North Country Career Center students who are learning how to repair electric vehicles and traveled to Burlington for the event.

Burlington was the pair’s second stop of the day, having visited Portland, Maine earlier Wednesday as part of a White House tour touting the Biden administration’s workforce development efforts. 

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new $80 million grant program to fund infrastructure-related career training nationwide.

In his speech, Cardona touted the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and CHIPS and Science Act, which invested roughly $280 billion into domestic semiconductor research and manufacturing, as well as the federal government’s historic investments to fight climate change, saying this legislation will help spur job growth. “There’s a tsunami of well-paying jobs coming, and we need to make sure this generation of students is prepared to ride that wave,” Cardona said. “An invisible wall between workforce, higher education institutions and K-12 have resulted in systems that allow hundreds of thousands of high school students to graduate every year with no pathway to rewarding careers. Here in Vermont, you’re tearing down those walls.”

Neither Cardona nor Biden took questions from the media after their remarks.

In his own speech, Welch, too, commended Congress and the White House’s recent initiatives on workforce development and climate change, saying the government has moved from “denial” to “attack mode.” But, he added, “That was last year. This year, it’s about implementation. We’ve got to do the hard work of doing, and not talking.”

Like Biden and Cardona, Jane Sanders also worked in the education field for the majority of her career. And on Wednesday, she said, “I think what we’re hearing here is, maybe we need a new model for education in this country.”

“We’re looking at an education system that was built for the industrial age, quite a while ago,” she said. “We’re in the technological age now. We have problems in this country, and in this world, from climate change.” She pointed to Beta as an employer on the “cutting edge” of green technology.

Balint, a former teacher, said in a speech that the administration’s investments in workforce training will also provide a boon to rural regions like Vermont. To invest in America “really means uplifting rural America,” she said.

Scott in his speech harkened back to his own education, when he split his time between college prep courses and technical training. “There was a definite stigma attached, and I was stuck right between those two worlds,” he said.

“I think we’ve all experienced just how important the trades are when we find ourselves in a jam, especially when our car breaks down (or we) have an electrical problem, a water heater leak, or a sewer pipe failure,” Scott added.

He then issued a call to action: “Everyone, from teachers and guidance counselors, to parents and policy makers, needs to make a real effort to end the stigma around (technical) and trades training, because these are great careers that present endless possibilities for talented and hardworking kids, like our special guests today.”

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