DENVER (CBS4/AP) – Vice President Joe Biden swung through Denver on Tuesday to raise money for Senate Democrats, highlight President Barack Obama’s push for free community college, taste some ice cream and get unexpected emotional support after the recent death of his oldest son, Beau Biden.
Biden’s main public event was a round table at the Community College of Denver’s new manufacturing center, where he argued that the United States’ 20th century rise was fueled by free public education and that making 2-year community colleges available to all is the next logical step.
“Quite frankly, I argue we should have four years of free college,” Biden said.
The vice president opened his remarks with a somber note, however. Gov. John Hickenlooper praised Biden for his empathy during 2013’s historic floods.
“Governor,” Biden said, “it’s easy to be associated with people’s pain and loss and show some compassion when you’ve been the recipient of so much compassion.”
He recounted how upon landing at Buckley Air Force Base earlier Tuesday he was greeted by members of the military who expressed their condolences for the death of Beau Biden, a 46-year-old major in the Delaware National Guard, from brain cancer in late May.
“Although it’s still kind of an open wound it gave me a sense of strength” to hear from the service members at the base, Biden said.
After years of job losses in manufacturing, the sector is again growing. In Colorado the Department of Labor projects an increase of 11,600 jobs over the next decade — a 9 percent jump. But Biden said there aren’t nearly enough workers to meet the need.
“We have to have the most modern workforce in the world,” Biden said.
Along with Hickenlooper, Biden was joined by Mayor Michael Hancock, welding students and employers to discuss the trend the manufacturing industry has been warning about — a significant shortage welders, pipe-fitters, machinists and other tradesmen over the next 10 years.
Biden says community colleges are the key. He also toured the Advanced Manufacturing Center at the Community College of Denver where approximately 75 machinists and welders will receive training starting this fall.
“They’re not just two-year programs. We have certificates that you can do in one semester and go out and find a good job,” Dr. Chris Budden with the Community College of Denver said.
The jobs today are different than the ones lost during the recession.
“You can be the best mechanic in the world, you’ve been doing it for 30 years. But unless you get trained on the new machines, you’re out of work, man,” Biden said.
That’s why the Department of Labor awarded $26 million to community colleges in Colorado for training programs.
The Community College of Denver says that most of its students at the Advanced Manufacturing Center will be offered a job before they are even finished with their training at an average pay of $20 an hour.
Later Tuesday afternoon Biden zestfully plunged into the retail politicking he is famous for, stopping to shake hands, pose for pictures and sample a salted Oreo waffle cone at the Little Man ice cream stand. Then Biden headed to a private fundraiser for Senate Democrats.
– By Nicholas Riccardi, AP Writer
CBS4 staff contributed to this report.
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