• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Box takes part in White House workforce meeting


The president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) was one of 25 education and business leaders who took part in last week’s first meeting of the American Workforce Advisory Policy Board at the White House.

Dr. Jay Box called the Wednesday, March 6, gathering a “great first meeting” with an aim of introducing members of the board to their function and charge. The meeting was held in the White House formal dining room and featured introductions by co-chairs Ivanka Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who picked the members, and an appearance by President Trump. Box said they got through about half of the scheduled agenda.

“Things took longer than what they expected. And then the president was scheduled to join us at 4 o’clock, and we had a hard stop with our business meeting,” Box said.

After that, the president joined the group and was introduced by his daughter, who said, “And now, Mr. President, I turn the floor over to you.”

The president grasped Ivanka’s hand, joking, “She’s so formal,” then praised his daughter’s devotion to American workers. Members of the advisory board, including Box, briefly introduced themselves.

“ … We are committed to speeding the time to a degree and credential because we know the workforce needs us to turn out our workers faster,” Box told the group and President Trump. “So we like to say, instead of a ‘career pathway, a ‘career freeway,’ with many on ramps and exit ramps, so that students can come into our institutions at any time and exit once they get a credential and ride into the workforce, and later on, they can come right back in for further skill training.”

After the introductions, the president brought up the “onslaught” and “invasion” he said was taking place on America’s southern border.

He said he knew America needs more foreign workers, but that they must come in legally. He praised the economy under his watch and the bipartisan justice reform passed by Congress last year that he signed into law, which he said would help many former prisoners get a shot at a job.

In an interview with the Sun Monday, Box said he was most impressed by the advisory board members, which include influential CEOs, educators and representatives of groups like the Society for Human Resources Management.

“What was also impressive to me was to hear them say how valuable a community college credential is to the workforce openings they have,” Box said. “Both Apple and IBM said over the last few years, that over 50 percent of the employees they have hired have been people with an associate degree or less. And their workforce is not looking for individuals with a bachelor’s degree; that their focus right now is on the mid-skilled positions, which require a community college certificate or up to an associate’s degree.” Box said most of those “mid-skill” jobs, depending on the cost of living in the part of the country where they’re available, will pay $60,000 to $100,000.

Box said the group worked through two of its four goals: Developing a robust campaign to promote multiple paths to good-paying jobs and dispelling the myth of only one path to such jobs; and workforce data transparency, which in the case of KCTCS, includes a website showing job openings with typical salaries and the school programs that train students for those careers.

“We’re kind of real proud about how we keep that information out there in front of potential students, to let them know their career choices,” Box said.

The Trump Administration has been criticized in some quarters for a lack of follow-through on some policy proposals. Asked what he expects to happen with the advisory board’s work, Box said the group will meet at least quarterly, along with more frequent subgroup meetings, and release its recommendations to the National Council for the American Worker in July 2020. That council will make its recommendations in July 2021.

“A lot of that will depend on whether the president is reelected, I’m sure, because this is not scheduled to be completed until after the elections in 2020,” Box said.

Box said he volunteered his services a few months after the president’s summer 2018 executive order forming the national council. Box is one of seven members of the “Rebuilding America’s Middle Class” (RAMC) group, which consists of presidents of community college systems around the country. At RAMC’s annual retreat last year, Box was encouraged to apply for the workforce group, and received letters of recommendation from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sixth District U.S. Rep. Andy Barr. He also had to submit to a new sort of background check.

“ … I had to give up all of my social media information. The Secret Service did a background check on all my postings on Facebook and Twitter and everything else,” Box said.

Box apparently passed the check, which in some cases, has kept Trump critics from serving on boards or receiving administration-related honors.

“It’s certainly an honor and a privilege to be serving on this board. I’m on this board to kind of represent the community colleges,” Box said, adding that the CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges is also a member.

“That’s a great opportunity for me to brag about the wonderful things we’re doing here in Kentucky, because we think we’re doing things right. It’s wonderful to be with this group and have that opportunity to share the great things we’re doing …” Box said.

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