The President Helps a Fort Worth Engineer Get a Job

During a public videochat, an unemployed engineer's wife asked President Barack Obama why her husband didn't have a job. Now, the offers are pouring in.  
Sat February 4, 2012 3:45 am
White House | Screengrab

President Barack Obama played headhunter-in-chief this week, having his staff pass along the resume of a unemployed Fort Worth engineer after his wife raised the matter with him in a Google+ "hangout."

The Atlantic's Nancy Scola chronicled the whole exchange, dubbing Wedel the "breakout star" of the videochat event: 

Wedel, a 29 year-old mother of two and State Farm employee from Fort Worth, Texas, [was] selected to participate on the basis of a video question she submitted on H1B visas. What was so eye and ear catching about her exchange with President Obama was her willingness to inject a little bit of her own reality into the presidential bubble.

Here's how it went down. Wedel opened by raising the issue of her husband, a 40 year-old semiconductor engineer who, after seven years or so at Texas Instruments, lost his job three years ago and has been unemployed since.

"My question for you," said Wedel to Obama, "is why does the government continue to issue and extend H1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?" Obama began his response, and it quickly became clear that a long, Obamesque answer was in the offing.

There's actually a great need for engineers in high tech, explained the president. "What industry tells me is that they don't have enough highly-skilled engineers." He then shifted tacks a bit, in what looked like an attempt to connect. "If your husband's in that field," said Obama, "then we should get his resume and I'll forward it to some of these companies that tell me they can't find enough engineers in this field." That prompted polite chuckling, mostly, it seemed, from Obama and moderator Steve Grove. "It's going to vary, but as a basic matter, there's a huge demand for engineers in the country right now," explained Obama to a woman who had just explained that her engineer husband can't find a job right now. He went on.

"I understand that...," interjected Wedel.

"And so...," continued Obama. 

"But," said Wedel. "Yeah...," said Obama, who then gestured for Wedel to continue. She did. "Given the list [of engineering openings] that you're getting, we're not getting that." In your State of the Union, she said, you called on business leaders to do what they can to bring jobs back. "Why," she asked, "do you think the H1B program is so popular with big corporations?"

Obama, though, preferred to focus on why what he's hearing from said corporations wasn't matching Wedel's stated experience. "It is interesting to me...," he began, and then switched approaches. "I meant what I said. If you send me your husband's resume, I'd be interested in finding out exactly what's happening right there, because the word that we're getting is that somebody in that kind of high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something, ah, right away." He asked again for her husband's resume, and Wedel assured the president that she'd be taking him up on the offer.

Wedel appeared on CNN on Wednesday to discuss her one-on-one with the president. "Quite frankly, you get one shot with the president. I will probably never, ever speak to him, or any other president for that matter, ever again," she said.

She said the president gave her a "general" answer and that it "just wasn't good enough."

But Obama redeemed himself when the White House deputy chief of staff of operations phoned on Tuesday to ask for Darin Wedel's resume, which was then, at the President's request, sent along to "several DFW contacts." However, on Wednesday she said that, despite Obama's personal assistance, she remained undecided on who to vote for in the presidential race.

Wedel told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram 's Anna Tinsley that since Monday, calls from the media, companies interested in possibly hiring her husband, and Texas Workforce Commission, have been pouring in.

"We've been praying for this to happen for three years," she told Tinsley. "Did we think the president would have to get involved? No. As for why he chose this way, maybe God will enlighten me on that in the future."

VIDEO of Obama's Google+ "hangout" below. Wedel's exchange with Obama begins around the six-minute mark:

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