How Congress can help millions of Americans achieve career success
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One hundred years ago, in February 1917, Congress passed the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Act, the first federal law to recognize the importance of education in helping our nation’s economy grow and innovate. Today, we urge Congress to help usher in the next 100 years of American innovation and economic opportunity for young people by reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

While the Smith-Hughes Act initially focused on agriculture, America’s most important industry at the time, it was also an essential investment in the skills the country needed as it transformed into an industrial economy. Today we see the continued importance of   federal investments in technical skill training, as career technical education (CTE) plays an essential role as we shift to a  knowledge economy.

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Over the course of the century, the focus and scope of education changed to include the importance of junior and community colleges in the 1930s, supporting the war efforts and our nation’s production in the 1940s. It then evolved in the 1950s to address new and emerging sectors and set the foundational infrastructure for regional technical schools in the 1960s.

 

The Perkins legislation, first enacted in 1984, brought about a focus on students with special needs, gender equity, accountability, career guidance, and the integration of academics with CTE coursework.

But times have changed. Forty years ago, nearly 75 percent of jobs were for people with a high school degree or less. Today, it’s below 40 percent while wages for these jobs have declined by 15 percent. This is why, in today’s advanced economy, our nation must adapt again so that young people have the education and skills they need to compete for good-paying jobs.

Since Perkins was last reauthorized in 2006, there have been significant changes to our economy and the types of good jobs that are in-demand and need to be filled. Just consider the advancements in technology like the smartphone or changes in manufacturing and healthcare.

Job seekers need a new and dynamic set of skills to prepare them for the 16 million middle-skills jobs — positions that require more than a high school diploma but less than 4 year college degree — that will be available between today and 2024.

Serving more than 11 million students each year, CTE supports all sectors of the economy, represented by 16 broad career clusters. Visionary leadership and collaboration between industry and CTE leaders have resulted in new programs of study in emerging sectors like cybersecurity, mechatronics, health informatics and biotechnology, while also updating programs that are foundational to our economy, like agriculture and manufacturing.

Although it has historically been the government’s job to strengthen career education, it should be a priority for business too. States are now creating CTE systems that are both progressive and aggressive by developing programs driven by labor market information and developed jointly with business leaders, expanding work-based learning experiences to give more students exposure to a variety of career areas that are growing, and ensuring equal access for all students who want to pursue this pathway.

In fact, between 2013 and 2016, all 50 states passed well over 500 policies in support of CTE. Notably, they did this with the input of local employers who have deep understanding of the skill sets needed over the next decade.

This progress has been greatly accelerated by national efforts, including JPMorgan Chase’s $75 million New Skills for Youth (NSFY) initiative. NSFY has two clear and ambitious goals: to dramatically increase the number of students in the U.S. who successfully complete career pathways and to catalyze transformational approaches across the country that increase students’ career readiness.

A public-private partnership of education leaders, business partners, and community partners, along with JPMorgan Chase, Advance CTE, and the Council of Chief State School Officers, NSFY places states at the center of its strategy to ensuring students have the skills they need to be successful.

Business and government have a responsibility to work together to create economic opportunity for more young people. Reauthorizing the Perkins Act will help us look towards and better prepare for the future of our workforce.

States, districts, schools, institutions, and, most importantly students, need newly reauthorized Perkins legislation that drives quality education programs, incentivizes industry engagement, improves access for all, and empowers learners to prepare for a lifetime of career success.

Chauncy Lennon is head of workforce initiatives at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Kimberly Green is executive director of Advance CTE, the longest-standing national nonprofit that represents state directors and state leaders responsible for secondary, postsecondary, and adult career technical education across all 50 states and U.S. territories.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.