Secretary Elaine Chao

 
 
 

Asian Pacific American Summit

Thank you, Shinea [Chun, Director, DOL Women’s Bureau] for that introduction. She does such a wonderful job running our Women’s Bureau.

Welcome to our seventh annual summit. Each May, we have an opportunity to foster greater awareness and appreciation of Asian Pacific Americans. It is a time to reflect on our heritage and the many contributions that Asian Pacific Americans have made to our country. And this year is a special occasion, since it marks the final year of my tenure as U.S. Secretary of Labor.

I want to thank David Chu [Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, U.S. Department of Defense] for being our keynote speaker. We look forward to hearing from him about the many contributions of Asian Pacific Americans to our nation’s defense.

I also want to recognize Linda Springer [Director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management] and Charles Fan [President, Federal Asian Pacific American Council].

Our special thanks to you and OPM, the Federal Asian Pacific American Council and our other federal partners for helping us with this annual event.

Like many others who have chosen America for their home, Asian Pacific Americans have so much to offer, including strong family values and an emphasis on the importance of education.

Like many in this room, my family and I are immigrants. I remember how difficult those initial years were. My father worked three jobs and my mother scrimped and saved to make a warm, secure, and comfortable home for us while managing to save $50 every month — no easy feat!

My childhood memories are filled with scenes and incidents of this and greater sacrifices from my parents. I’m sure the parents in this room have done the same, offering the best of everything you have to your children, looking after your children, keeping them safe and healthy in the hopes they’ll build better lives for themselves.

The good news is that all the work, and patience, and sacrifice has had an impact. Over the past several years, I’ve seen firsthand how the diversity of our country has grown. Asian Pacific Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in America. Over the past 15 years, the Asian Pacific American population has grown from about 3 percent of America’s total population to about 5 percent. Along with our increasing presence in mainstream America, our community has also grown in what we have been able to achieve.

These milestones are reflected in the fact that President George W. Bush has appointed more than 400 Asian Pacific Americans to positions across the federal government. That’s more than all the previous administrations combined. And, the U.S. Department of Labor has the highest number of Asian American appointees of any agency in the federal government. And the percentage of Asian Pacific Americans in the federal workforce has increased from 4.5 percent in 2000 to 5.3 percent in 2007.

But there is always more that can be done. So at the Department of Labor, we have launched many programs to help Asian Pacific Americans — and other underserved communities — take advantage of the opportunities available in this country. These initiatives include this summit, the annual Opportunity Conference, and the DOL-established internship program.

For the first time ever, since 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has specifically reported monthly employment data on Asian Pacific Americans as a separate, independent category. That’s how we now know that the unemployment rate for Asian Pacific Americans is right around 3 percent.

The Department has also made a special effort to target enforcement of our nation’s wage and hour laws on industries that employ large numbers of immigrants. In 2007, the Department recovered more than $220 million for workers who did not receive the wages they were due, many of whom were vulnerable immigrants.

Today’s Asian Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit helps individuals access the skills necessary to advance within the federal workforce. The very first one took place in May 2002 in the auditorium of the Frances Perkins Building. It was attended by about two hundred people. Now they are held at major hotels like this because the crowds are so large. And we have more than 1400 this year — the largest number ever! We open the doors for all who are interested. And, in fact, we are also growing more diverse every year.

I should also note that the training received here is officially approved by the Office of Personnel Management. And, we have something for you to take home. This Pocket Career Guide is a summary of key points from over six years of summits and workshops on career skills training and leadership development. I hope you find it helpful!

The Department’s annual Opportunity Conference was specifically designed to help traditionally underserved communities access greater opportunities in mainstream America. We’ve had five Opportunity Conferences, and these, too, have become very popular and have grown by leaps and bounds. Attendance has now reached over 1000.

Also, to help entrepreneurs, the Department has translated numerous labor law materials into multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean so that employers and workers with limited English proficiency would know their rights and responsibilities. This is important because the number of businesses owned by Asian Pacific and Hispanic Americans has jumped in recent years.

Together over these past seven years, we have made progress, and I hope you will continue our efforts. This means continuing to prepare yourselves for leadership roles. I’ve said this many times — learning how to be an effective leader is not easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in my life. It’s a never-ending process.

But all of you here are ahead of the game. You’ve benefited from specialized education and training in communications, management, networking, conflict resolution and other critical skills. That’s key because employers not only value technical competency. They are looking for workers with leadership skills. We have tried to open the door wider for all of you by providing access to tools that can help you advance. And to foster the next generation of leaders and promote diversity in the workforce, the Department of Labor also established an internship program that has included over 100 Asian Pacific Americans, as well as Hispanic Americans, African Americans and many others from traditionally underserved groups.

So as you move up the career ladder, I ask you to look back and help those who are coming after you. Make an effort to open the door for them, as others have opened the door for you.

And finally, let me share with you a significant opportunity that is coming up. In the next 10 years, 60 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement. And more than one-third of employees in SES positions are expected to retire. This upcoming wave of retirements presents a tremendous opportunity for advancement. There are more than 20,000 job opportunities listed on the federal employment Web site: www.USAJOBS.gov. We hope you will visit this website and help us spread the word in your community about the great opportunities available in the federal government for those who want to serve their country.

I encourage you to prepare for these opportunities, because as our country becomes part of an increasingly worldwide economy, diversity is emerging as a key competitive advantage. This goes for the public sector, as well as the private sector.

I’m so proud of the many accomplishments we’ve achieved together over these last seven-plus years. Asian Pacific Americans — and members of other traditionally underserved communities — should feel confident as we take on new leadership challenges.

One of the wonders of the human spirit is the ability to learn and to adapt. The American version of the human spirit holds that our differences, once blended, contribute to our country’s collective strength. That has been true throughout American history. And it’s as true today as it was forty years ago, when my family and I first caught that magical glimpse of the Statue of America and embarked upon the great adventure that brought me here today.

Together, we have sown the seeds of change, and I hope you will continue our efforts. I am confident that — with your commitment — the progress that we have made will continue to grow and create more hope and opportunity for our community and for all Americans.