In an area of the nation with the smallest manufacturing base, President Obama announced a plan today to produce manufacturing credentials for students at community colleges.  The plan was announced at the Alexandria, Virginia campus of the Northern Virginia Community College.

Mr. Obama’s plan calls for private manufacturing companies to partner with community colleges to define skill sets that would offer students an opportunity to obtain credentials in manufacturing trades.  Mr. Obama stated the goal was to assist manufacturers with finding skilled workers and help students to find jobs upon graduation.

What Mr. Obama failed to understand is that the cause of the high unemployment rate isn’t that manufacturers are having difficulty finding skilled workers, it’s that they cannot afford to hire due to the growth in government regulations, unpredictability in employee costs and the slumping economy.  It’s growth in the private sector, increased demand for products, creating a demand for business expansion that will remedy the poor job prognosis.

Mr. Obama’s plan is not without merit, however in dire economic times government should be doing more to encourage job growth.  The best way government can help the private sector is to streamline regulations, address the credit crunch with Wall Street, control federal spending and withdraw any attempts to escalate business costs through health care mandates.  Just this week a poll of businesses found that nearly 1 out of every 3 businesses will drop employee health insurance coverage if his health care plan comes to fruition in 2014.

The public is growing more and more displeased with the President’s performance on the economy and nothing in his speech at the college is likely to change that view.  Students graduating from colleges with degrees in science and math unable to find work will find very little comfort in a plan to credential manufacturing skills.  The plan seems to run in opposition of Mr. Obama’s earlier statements about producing high-tech well-paying jobs and his own administrations actions such as the attack on the new Boeing plant in South Carolina.

The President was joined by Greg Brown, chairman and CEO of Motorola Solutions and Brad Keywell, co-founder and director of Groupon, Inc., an interesting combination of executives given that Motorola does a significant amount of manufacturing in China and Groupon, the discount coupon based service company which does none.

Gene Sperling, Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council told reporters yesterday that, “This is the type of mobilization and all-hands-on-deck effort that is so needed in this economy, particularly at this moment and particularly as we hope to see the continued strength that we’ve seen over the last year in the manufacturing sector and manufacturing jobs.”

Mr. Sperling’s words seem oddly out-of-place in an administration that has demonstrated such an anti-business bias and has stewarded over a rapid decline in manufacturing jobs.

What Mr. Sperling declares as “strength” in manufacturing has more to do with historic lows in production, highs in manufacturing layoffs and employment levels that simply cannot dip further.  The manufacturing sector may be holding its own, but it’s at levels that would barely support a single city in China let alone a country the size of the U.S.

Investing in the future of U.S. manufacturing is a noble and worthy cause.  It’s hard to fault the President on his latest, albeit late-to-the-party, change in perspective.  We should be doing everything we can to grow and perhaps regain what some of what we’ve lost to cheap manufacturing overseas through better productivity and a government which encourages American manufacturing.  Prior to this speech, the only manufacturing Mr. Obama seemed to approve of was “green” manufacturing such as windmills and solar panels.  So give the man kudos for perhaps seeing the light.  Yet with one hand patting him on the back, the other needs to be giving him a sharp slap across the mug.  If this speech was intended to bolster public opinion of the economy or to encourage job growth, it sadly missed the mark.

Mr. Obama has some good minds around him, but unfortunately the advice they’re offering is either short-sighted or being dismissed.  The President could do more for job growth by making an all-out assault on government spending and offering the private sector some predictability for the future.  Businesses plan for the future and Mr. Obama’s plans on taxes, both at the individual and business level, are hard to nail down.  Businesses don’t like surprises because they must budget for tomorrow and that requires they know what they will face.  Mr. Obama seems to want to play to two constituencies; his base which loves the demonization of business while the broad electorate cries for signs of economic growth and the jobs that come with it.

Has the President finally learned that without a robust economy, specifically jobs for those that want them, is key to any hopes of re-election?  If that is in fact the case, this speech did nothing to advance that agenda.  This plan will not create one job; it will not encourage the building of a single plant.  This is where the President and his team seem to repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot: winning the future will do him no good on election day if he’s seen to be losing the present.