In an effort to help out-of-work Americans find employment and help finally lower the the unemployment rate below 8%, the U.S. Department of Labor is hoping that many of the nation’s unemployed workers will decide to reinvest in their college education in order to learn new skills essential for a changing workplace. In order to do so, the DoL is investing $2 billion into community college retraining programs as part of its Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training (TAACCCT) program.

This funding, which will be disbursed in $500 million increments until 2014, will be used to help build relationships with business partners, streamline worker retraining for growth industries, and fill labor needs specific to the area each community college serves. Some of these certificate-awarding courses will be designed to be completed in as little as 12 weeks. For example, Pennsylvania’s Community College of Allegheny County is aiming to train its unemployed workers in fields like advanced manufacturing, mechatronics, alternative energy jobs, and healthcare information technology through the JobTrak PA program, which hopes to see up to 80% of their students find new work.

“This is filling a large void,” says Michelle Williams, director of the JobTrak program at the Community College of Philadelphia. “People are always saying, ‘Hey we have jobs, but do your people have this credential or that certification?’ If we can’t provide people that have those credentials or have those skill sets, those jobs remain open.”

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis predicts that the next decade will see about half of all job openings be for “middle-skill” jobs, which will not necessarily require a four-year degree but will need something more than a high school diploma. As a result, Solis believes that programs such as these will be “tickets to employment.”

“Through the use of this funding, the federal government is investing in job training for those individuals that have lost their job due to foreign competition,” said Larry Michael, assistant vice president of Work Force Development and Special Projects at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, which is receiving a grant of almost $15 million. “This TAACCCT investment will result in these displaced workers receiving new skills that will allow them to get family-sustaining jobs, which will in turn reduce the nation’s unemployment rate.”