- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) - Two years ago, Reggie Troop had no job, one small child and another on the way. Now the Milwaukee man has a good-paying job that he landed through an accelerated job-training program - and it’s that progress that earned him a personal shoutout from President Barack Obama during a stop Thursday in southeastern Wisconsin.

Obama toured a General Electric plant in Waukesha, where he told about 400 people that America needs even more qualified workers to fill a growing manufacturing need. He singled out Troop by name, saying the 26-year-old showed he was willing to work hard and farsighted enough to seek trained for a field for which workers were in demand.

“The first thing is, let’s create more new jobs,” Obama said. “Number two, we’ve got to train Americans with the skills to fill those jobs. Americans like Reggie, we’ve got to get them ready to take those jobs.”

Troop began his job-training program about two years ago when he found out his wife was pregnant again. He realized a minimum-wage job wouldn’t be enough to support four people, so he enrolled in an intensive program that condensed about seven months of training into three months.

“The program is truly a blessing from God,” the machine operator said. “I feel like I’ve won the Super Bowl of life.”

The GE plant makes engines built to perform in oil and gas fields worldwide. Executives said they need workers who are specifically trained, because some machines have such tiny parts that have to work under such extremely rugged conditions that the factory workers need highly technical skills.

The company works with a training program that helps move people from minimum wage to better-paying jobs. The nearly 20-year-old Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/BIG STEP works with companies, unions and regional agencies to identify hard-to-fill jobs and then teach people to do them.

The training program recently developed a 12-week program for 15 people that included training in the classroom and on the job. About a dozen were placed at GE Energy.

Brian White, a senior GE executive, said he was heartened to see a presidential push for manufacturing training. He noted that about 400 hourly workers have an average age around 55, and 30 percent are eligible for retirement in the next three years. He said it was important for the plant, which has about 700 workers, to have access to well-qualified replacements.

Obama said parents who watched manufacturing jobs shut down and shift overseas might have dissuaded their children from going into trades, but people can make more money in skilled manufacturing than they can with a college degree in a subject like art history.

“Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree - I love art history,” he said. “… I’m just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need.”

Obama used the Waukesha stop to officially kick off a review of federal job-training programs announced in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Troop, who introduced Obama before the president’s speech, was still trembling with excitement after Obama had departed the building.

“You can’t describe what it’s like - I mean, that’s the most powerful man in the world,” Troop said. “He’s just so down-to-earth. It’s just a remarkable feeling.”

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