Preparing future graduates for the workforce
With high school graduation season approaching, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce last week passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act with unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans. The legislation, of which Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker is an original co-sponsor, aims to help young people develop the skills and knowledge they need to compete for good-paying jobs.
Many of the thousands of students who will graduate from Lancaster County high schools in the next several weeks already have their paths charted — at least in the short term — whether it’s to a four-year college, a two-year institution or directly into the working world.
But for future graduates, here’s something to think about: American companies are in dire need of skilled workers because there are not enough qualified applicants.
Evidence of this demand exceeding supply is right here in Lancaster County.
Speaking at his school’s commencement earlier this month, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology President William E. Griscom said 1,152 companies came to campus this year to recruit 415 graduates — the largest class in Stevens history — for 2,552 jobs.
These students, who make $50,000 to $60,000 a year upon graduating, are “just desperately needed,” Griscom said.
Which is why the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which seeks to close this persistent gap between skilled jobs and qualified applicants to fill them, has drawn overwhelming bipartisan support.
“Rep. Smucker hosted a conference call with CTE schools in the district, including Thaddeus Stevens. (The college) expressed a desire to expand opportunities and programs for students, and this bill will help them do that,” Smucker’s communications director, Bill Jaffee, wrote to LNP in an email.
The bill, which reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, was introduced by Pennsylvania Republican G.T. Thompson and Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi.
As a release from the Education and the Workforce Committee states, “Congress has enacted reforms to improve K-12 education and modernize the nation’s workforce development system. However, more must be done to help all Americans access the education they need to earn a lifetime of success.”
Because the Perkins Act hasn’t been updated in more than a decade, according to the committee, “it no longer reflects the realities and challenges facing students and workers. Current policies restrict the ability of state leaders to invest federal resources in efforts that prioritize economic growth and local needs.”
Among other things, the bill simplifies the application process for receiving federal funds and provides greater flexibility to use federal resources in responding to evolving needs.
It also “improves alignment with in-demand jobs by supporting innovative learning opportunities, building better community partnerships, and encouraging stronger engagement with employers,” the committee states.
House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the legislation during his weekly press conference, saying, “This will make it easier to connect people with the skills they need to get good-paying, in-demand jobs.”
After the bill passed the committee, according to a press release from his office, Rep. Smucker said: “I have my own experience with nontraditional education. I took college courses at night while operating a small construction company during the day. It’s important we accommodate the needs of many different types of students that are ready to learn and willing to work.
“... This bill will help (local state and education) leaders align their priorities based on the specific needs of their students. I am proud to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance this important bill.”
It’s good to know that on this issue, Republican and Democratic members of the House are collaborating on doing the people’s business — even with everything else that’s been going on in the nation’s capital.
So at least when it comes to recognizing the importance of preparing the graduates of tomorrow for skilled jobs, the federal government is working.