Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships.

BLU Video Series

Machining and Manufacturing Skills Gap in OH | Scott Ellsworth, Tipco Punch

Precision Machining Skills Gap in MA | Michael Tamasi, AccuRounds

Precision Manufacturing Skills Gap in NY | Mike Mandina, Optimax

Construction Skills Gap in OH | Liza Smitherman, Jostin Construction

Advanced Modern Manufacturing Skills Gap in MN | Erick Ajax, E.J. Ajax and Sons

Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships is comprised of employers from a range of industries who are concerned about our nation’s skills gap, who are working with local partners to train and hire community residents for skilled jobs, and who want our country’s policymakers to follow suit and invest, aggressively and effectively, in the skills of America’s workers. BLU seeks to create a common platform from which these diverse business leaders can jointly communicate to national policymakers, the press and the American public about the effective industry-based strategies they’ve developed which could serve as models for a more comprehensive national skills policy.   


BLU Background

BLU Policy Principles

BLU Strategies for Employer Leadership

BLU News

E-News Updates:
February 2014: BLU in the Spotlight as President Focuses on Long-Term Unemployed  
November 2013: Washington Takes Workforce Cues from BLU
August 2013: Business Leaders Continue to Weigh in with Washington
May 2013: Business Leaders Know What Works 
March 2013: Business Leaders Talk Skills in Washington   
October 2012: Business Leaders Unite on Capitol Hill 


BLU Member Joins Rep. Joe Crowley for On-the-Job 
Training Act Announcement
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), alongside BLU member Angel Piñeiro, announced the introduction of the On-The-Job Training Act of 2014 that will award competitive grants to establish and support local on-the-job (OJT) training programs, which connect unemployed workers with jobs and provide employers with training subsidies.   

Senator Franken Tours BLU Member's Facility

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) met with local education and workforce development leaders from Dunwoody, Hennepin (HTC) and Anoka (ATC) Technical Colleges along with representatives from HIRED at E.J. Ajax Metal Forming Solutions where BLU member Erick Ajax is vice president and co-owner.   

BLU Members Attend White House Event Focused on
Helping the Long-Term Unemployed

On January 31, 2014, President Obama invited 18 members of BLU to the White House for an event with corporate leaders and workforce partnership innovators to discuss what can be done to help our nation's 4 million long-term unemployed. At the event, the President announced $150 million in new support from the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) for “Ready to Work" partnerships to "prepare and place the long-term unemployed into good jobs." The White House also released a statement signed by several BLU members endorsing “best practices” they use when hiring in order to ensure all applicants, including the unemployed, are treated fairly in the job application process. Prior to the event, BLU leaders Mike Mandina and Michael Tamasi attended a CEO roundtable with the President to discuss how employers can help the long-term unemployed get back to work.

Vice President Biden Visits BLU Member to
Focus on Sector Partnerships 
Following the State of the Union, Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Rochester, NY, for an event about job-driven training at Monroe Community College. Mike Mandina, President of Optimax and founding member of BLU, introduced the Vice President.

BLU Employers Join National Webinar on Cultivating
Employer Advocates
On January 16, BLU employers Rick Jordan and Scott Burgmeyer presented during a webinar, hosted by National Skills Coalition for National Fund for Workforce Solutions sites across the country, describing the value of advocating for demand-driven job training to increase economic comptitiveness and address critical workforce needs. 

BLU Reconvenes in D.C. to Meet with Congress
and the Administration

On October 21-22, 2013, BLU brought over 50 business leaders from across the nation to Washington, D.C. to share their vision for a demand-driven federal workforce system with members of President Obama’s Cabinet, senior White House officials, senior agency staff, and over 50 members of Congress and their staff.  


BLU Supports Industry Partnership Legislation
On July 22, 2013, Business Leaders United weighed in with policymakers in support of two key pieces of workforce legislation, The Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act of 2013 (S. 1226) and the Community College to Career Fund Act (S. 1269). Both bills would improve employer engagement with the workforce development system by supporting employer-driven partnerships. 



BLU Steering Committee Member Contributes to
Career Pathways Video
In April 2013, the Minnesota Workforce Funders Policy Taskforce teamed up with the United Way to create this video about the successful workforce development strategies that are making a difference for Minnesota workers and businesses. BLU Steering Committee member Erick Ajax and his company, E.J. Ajax and Sons, are featured in the video that illustrates how career pathways help individuals to successfully navigate education and training programs to achieve self-sufficiency.



Business Leaders United Brings Sector Partnerships
to Policymakers in DC
On March 5, 2013, a group of employers joined BLU national partners in meetings with key policymakers in Washington. Together they provided the offices of Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and President Obama’s National Economic Council a first-hand account of successful sector partnerships and their economic impact. The group urged policymakers to include this kind of initiative in any future workforce legislation and to push for bipartisan support on skills issues.

Business Leaders Meet with Policymakers and
Presidential Campaigns in DC  
On October 1-2, 2012, a select group of employers representing multiple industries from across the country visited the nation's capital to convince federal policymakers—Congress, federal agencies, and the Obama and Romney Presidential campaigns—of the necessity of a bi-partisan solution to the skills gap that continues to hamper company growth and re-employment in our communities. View materials and photos from this event.


Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships
Announced at Clinton Global Initiative

On June 30, 2011, at CGI America—a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI)—National Skills Coalition, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, Skills for America’s Future, and Corporate Voices for Working Families announced the creation of Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships, an initiative to bring diverse business leaders together to help shape a national skills strategy that can address structural skill shortages that are putting the brakes on economic recovery and job creation. 


BLU in the Press

Sylvia Wetzel joins Board of Manufacturing Skill Standards Council | Supply Chain 24/7, 03.11.2014
Congressman Pushes for On-the-Job Training
 | Queens Tribune, 02.27.2014
HIRED director Jane Samargia goes to the White House
| Minneapolis Star Tribune, 02.22.2014
Citizen of the Week: Lynn Pecora
 | Montgomery News, 02.15.2014
Local CEO participates in White House strategy session
 | The Canton Citizen, 02.14.2014
On Effective Reform of Federal Job-Training Programs
| Wall Street Journal, 02.12.2014
PMPA Member Particpates at White House CEO Roundtable On Long-Term Unemployment
 | Speaking of Precision Blog, 02.06.2014
QualiTest Invited to the White House for an Event on Long-Term Unemployment
| Virtual Strategy Magazine, 02.03.2014
Obama Ramps Up Federal Focus on Job Training | The Chronicle of Higher Education, 01.31.2014
AccuRounds CEO: We have a huge skills gap in this country
| Fox Business, 01.31.2014
Mandina Introduces Vice President Joe Biden | Seneca Daily News, 01.31.2014
Obama plans facelift of workforce education
| Politico Pro, 01.30.2014
Walton businessman takes unemployment ideas to White House
| Cincinnati Enquirer, 01.30.2014
A Word With the Boss: Marine trades chief ensures Maine’s waterfront is covered | Portland Press Herald, 01.30.2014
Association executive invited to the White House | Bangor Daily News, 01.28.2014
Congress selects State of the Union guests with message in mind | Star Tribune, 01.28.2014
Speaker Boehner Announces Guests for the State of the Union | Speaker of the House, 01.27.2014
Employers must help advance the K-12 process | 01.24.2014
Program Provides Skills, Training for Jobs
| Cincinnati Enquirer, 12.10.2013
Businesses Need Help to Boost Training
| Boston Business Journal, 11.22.2013   
Closing the skills gap is a matter of partnership
| Star Tribune, 11.10.2013
'Skills gap' crippling Ohio business, prospective workers
| Cincinnati Enquirer, 11.01.2013
Skilled Workforce: What Washington Knows, and Needs | Speaking of Precision PMPA Blog, 10.31.2013
Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Discusses Tackling the Skills Gap
 | U.S. Department of Commerce, 10.22.2013
Maine’s businesses need a skills partnership with Washington
 | Bangor Daily News, 10.21.2013
OPINION: Sectors act would help boost job training in US
 | Kentucky Enquirer, 10.11.2013  
Manufacturing Hope: Optimax's Realistic Optimist
| Hitachi Foundaion, 10.04.2013
Manufacturing New Talent
| Global Corporate Xpansion, 08.29.2013
Sen. Al Franken pushes bill to end job skills gap | Star Tribune, 07.11.2013
Not all good Twin Cities jobs require a 4-year college degree | Star Tribune, 06.11.2013
Business leader EJ Ajax says four year college not for everyone, offers manufacturing apprenticeships | Twin Cities Daily Planet, 06.10.2013
Wanted: Highly skilled workers for good manufacturing jobs | The Civic Caucus, 04.26.2013
Finding, hiring, training, keeping skilled employees: Is it 'collaborate or die'? | Reliable Plant, 04.23.2013
OTHER VOICES: Workforce training must fill skills gap | Crain's Detroit Business, 04.21.2013
Business forum: Taking action to close the workforce skills gap | Star Tribune, 04.07.2013
Region has solution for skills gap | Cincinnati Business Courier, 04.05.2013
Maffei takes listening tour to Wayne County | Wayne Post, 04.01.2013
Fridley family firm E.J. Ajax is a model for training | StarTribune, 03.31.2013
Jackson businesses try DIY job-training to create skilled workers | Mlive, 03.12.2013
Michigan jobs are available, but not the workforce; is it due to skills or wages? |, 03.12.2013
Skills gap to widen as job training programs face drastic cuts | Medill Reports, 03.07.2013
Rayl and Jones: Michigan economy depends on skilled work force | Detroit News, 03.05.2013
Rep. Mike Shirkey invites Jackson manufacturing association leader to speak before House committee |, 02.28.2013
Made in Rochester with High Tech Companies | Rochester Homepage, 02.19.2013
In Search of the Skilled Worker, Yonnie Leung Frames the Conversation | Aspen Institute, 02.14.2013
Skills/Job Gap Topic of Seminar | Democrat and Chronicle, 01.17.2013
Building Tomorrow's Manufacturing Workforce | Manufacturing Press, 12.31.2012
Metal Cutters See Business Climbing | The Wall Street Journal, 12.10.2012
Minnesota Business Hires Veterans With Fast-Track Training | Department of Labor Newsletter, 11.15.2012
For Veterans, Finding a Job is New Mission | Pioneer Press, 11.11.2012
Manufacturing Skilled Workers | Department of Labor Blog, 11.11.2012
Manufacturing Leaders |Star Tribune, 11.03.2012
Worker Training Key to Local Economy |, 06.18.2012


Business Leaders Steering Committee

Click on the names below to learn more about the business leaders guiding the BLU initiative:

Gayle Agahi | Director Public Sector Initiatives, Cleveland Clinic
Erick Ajax | Vice President, E.J Ajax and Sons
Ernest Dupont | Director, Workforce Development   CVS / Caremark
Scott Ellsworth | Vice President, U.S. Operations, Tipco Punch
Pat Flavin | Assistant Vice President, Workforce Initiatives, TJX Companies, Inc. 
Yonnie Leung | Director of Integrated Talent Management, Workforce Development, Pacific Gas and Electric  
Mike Mandina | President, Optimax 
Liza Smitherman | Vice President, Professional Development, Jostin Construction
Michael Tamasi | President & CEO, AccuRounds 
Sylvia Wetzel | Chief Learning Officer, Bison Gear and Engineering Corporation 

Business Leaders United (BLU) for Workforce Partnerships is a collaborative project of National Skills CoalitionNational Fund for Workforce Solutions, and Skills for America’s Future, and has been made possible with dedicated support from the Joyce Foundation, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation, along with general support provided by foundations underwriting the three partner organizations. For more information, please contact Jessie Hogg-Leslie at