01/26/2011 05:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Big Things and the Workforce to Get Them Done

Last night, as millions of Americans tuned in and logged on to follow the president's State of the Union address, I was honored to have a front row seat. Sitting there in the "people's chamber," surrounded by current and former colleagues -- as well as a few new faces -- I listened to the president talk about the new realities and the new opportunities of a truly global economy.

Two years after the worst recession in our lifetimes the stock market is roaring back, corporate profits are at an all time high, the economy is growing again, and in each month last year the private sector added jobs. That's progress. But we don't measure the progress of our nation simply by looking at the bottom line. Our progress, our prosperity, must also be linked to the opportunities available to us. In that regard there remains much work to be done.

Our nation and especially our workers face big challenges and strong competition. But isn't rising to the challenge what has defined our nation throughout history? Isn't that spirit what continues to make this country a beacon of opportunity?

That promise of opportunity is certainly what drew my parents to each seek a better life in Los Angeles. It's also what led them to instill in me a belief that when faced with big challenges, you don't shrink away from the fight, you think boldly, and you do big things.

That's what I heard from the president last night -- bold ideas and a plan to do the big things that will keep the American workforce leading the world not only in our lifetimes, but for generations to come.

Creating the jobs and industries of the future will require America doing what it does best -- investing in the creativity, imagination, and ingenuity of our people. No nation has workers more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, inventors, and entrepreneurs. So when the president says that 80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean sources by 2035, I know we will meet that goal.

I believe it because I've seen the promise of clean energy technology, and I've seen the impact of green jobs. Take Kwanasia Smith, a young woman in Oakland, CA. Thanks to the Recovery Act, she attended a summer jobs program studying solar paneling, mounting, and wiring. Her dedication and desire impressed her employer, and she was able to launch a career as a result.

These new industries and new jobs require new training and a strong educational foundation. To compete for these jobs we must win the race to educate our current and future workforce. Adding 100,000 science and math teachers to provide our students with the skills they need for the jobs of the future is the very type of big thing that will allow us to continue our competitive edge.

We're also working to revitalize the community college system and permanently extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit, making a college education more accessible and affordable than ever.

I was first attracted to public service because I saw a need to speak up for the most vulnerable in my own community. That belief provided the foundation of my career in the House of Representatives, and it drives my work as your Labor Secretary.

Sitting in that front row, at the very epicenter of our representative democracy, I was reminded of that humble start to my career. That's why I was extremely pleased to hear the president acknowledge the contributions of immigrants, and pledge to reform immigration laws in a comprehensive manner. It's time to stop expelling talented, responsible graduates and provide them access to the promise of opportunity that will continue to set America apart.

I believe, as the president said last night, that "this is a country where anything is possible," and "where you can make it if you try." We will not succeed as a nation because of Democratic ideas or Republican ideas -- we will succeed thanks to bold ideas and a belief that the American people are the ones to get big things done.

This post also appears on the Department of Labor Blog at