No-Brainer: Strengthen Technical Education Now

No-Brainer: Strengthen Technical Education Now

This piece was originally published in the August 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA)

Congressman GT Thompson represents Pennsylvania’s Fifth Congressional District. He chairs the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, co-chairs the House Career and Technical Education Caucus, is senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and serves on the House Natural Resources Committee

On June 26, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved HR 2353, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. I helped author and introduce this bipartisan bill to increase access to high-quality career and technical education (CTE), opening the door for more Americans to achieve success in today’s workforce.

It’s not every day that Republicans and Democrats agree on labor or education issues—some would call it a rare occasion. However, I am proud to say that lawmakers, educators, and industry leaders have come together to make our nation more competitive in this cutting-edge, global economy.

As co-chair of the House Career and Technical Education Caucus and senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I know that many employers face a hiring crisis too serious to ignore. According to U.S. News & World Report, during the 2014–15 school year, our nation graduated 30,000 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students to fill 230,000 STEM-related jobs. Additionally, more than one million positions remain open in the trade, transportation, and utilities sectors, and 315,000 manufacturing positions are currently unfilled. If we are to embark on a new era of American manufacturing and improved infrastructure, we must realize the importance of a qualified and well-trained workforce.

With 45 million Americans currently living below the poverty line and the average college graduate owing $37,000 or more in student loans, federal legislation aimed at strengthening and expanding CTE programs is a no-brainer. This legislation will not only help meet the needs of 21st-century employers but also empower students to make educated decisions about their futures and provide them with the tools they need to be competitive.

This bill is crucial to removing barriers to technical education, including the stigma that young people have faced in settings that encourage hands-on learning. We must remove this outdated notion from the national dialogue and recognize that the dynamics of our economy are changing—and our workforce must change with it.

With this in mind, my colleagues and I looked at the federal laws governing career and technical education, which have not been updated since 2006. We worked in conjunction with dedicated stakeholders to produce a well-engineered reauthorization bill that will help to ensure that the skills taught in our high schools and community colleges result in real jobs.

HR 2353 will accomplish this by giving states and localities the flexibility to tailor career and technical education to their local economies and the jobs most in demand. To supplement these efforts, the bill authorizes more than $7 billion from fiscal years 2018 through 2023 for U.S. Department of Education (ED) grants to states. In return, states would develop programs of study and submit their plans to ED. These plans would include clear performance goals, such as a summary of workforce development activities; a strategic vision and goals for preparing an educated and skilled workforce meeting the needs of employers; how the state will support the recruitment and preparation of teachers; and a description of how federal funds will be spent.

Encouraged by the broad bipartisan support this legislation received on the House floor, I look forward to its consideration in the Senate. We must seize the opportunity to improve the lives of students, workers, and employers by making CTE programs a priority—this bill is only the beginning.

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