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The House of Representatives voted to approve an overhaul of key workforce development legislation geared toward closing the national skills gap.
The Perkins Career and Technical Education Act cleared the House Sept. 13 on a bipartisan 405-5 vote.
Introduced by Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Katherine Clark, D-Mass., the legislation reauthorizes and reforms a 2006 law to help high school and college students enter the workforce with the skills they need to compete for in-demand jobs.
The Perkins Act affects over 11 million students across the U.S. by providing federal funding to state and local career and technical education programs, including support for integrated career pathways programs. But the law had not been updated for 10 years.
"This legislation will comprehensively update the program, overhauling how government invests in our workforce and [strengthening] American competitiveness and jobs training," Clark said.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who recently put in a bid to lead the chamber's Committee on Education and the Workforce, said "for far too long, there has been a discrepancy in what students are learning in the classroom and what employers say they need in the workplace."
She lamented what she sees as "an unnecessary prejudice" that favors a four-year college education over technical education. "In reality, students who pursue [technical education] complete a diverse curriculum where they learn important life skills such as problem-solving, research, time management and critical thinking," Foxx said.
"We need to shift our perspective away from the idea that every student must attend a four-year program to succeed," she said. "Educational success is … about preparing students for a satisfying life and teaching them the quantifiable skills that employers need in their employees."
Building on recent reforms to the workforce development system, the bill would:
Attention now turns to the Senate, where the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is crafting its own bipartisan career and technical education bill. Industry and technical education groups applauded the House approval and called on the Senate to move its bill.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) said a modernized career and technical education system, designed with the input of employers and responsive to the needs identified by labor market data, is central to overcoming the country's skills gap.
"American employees need the education and skills to participate in a high-performance workforce for the robust and dynamic U.S. manufacturing economy," NAM said. "Skills gap surveys consistently underscore how a vast majority of American manufacturers are facing a serious shortage of qualified employees which is taking an increasingly negative toll on American manufacturers' ability to be innovative and productive."
Stephen E. Sandherr, the CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, said that the new legislation includes reforms "we have long advocated to allow school officials to offer programs that local employers need. In addition, the measure opens the way for greater acceptance of industry-recognized credentials within school programs. The last thing our economy can afford is to continue preparing students for jobs that don't exist while employers search in vain for workers with skills that aren't taught."
Reauthorizing the primary federal investment in career and technical education "will ultimately help fuel the talent pipeline and prepare workers for the high-skill, high-wage, high-demand careers of the 21st century," said LeAnn Wilson, executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education, the nation's largest not-for-profit group committed to the advancement of workforce readiness education.
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