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Rokita Statement: Hearing on "Providing More Students a Pathway to Success by Strengthening Career and Technical Education"


For decades, career and technical education has helped individuals compete in the workforce and build fulfilling careers. Today, state and local programs across the country are working to prepare students in high school and at community colleges for jobs in a variety of fields. These programs serve more than 11 million students — helping them receive knowledge, skills, and real-world experience in fields ranging from health care and law enforcement to information technology and manufacturing.
 
Through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the federal government provides support to these state and local programs. It’s a worthwhile investment in growing a skilled workforce, preparing students for postsecondary education or the workplace, and helping hardworking individuals — particularly younger individuals — achieve their goals in life.
 
CTE helped Paul Tse from Maryland go from a struggling high school student to the project manager for a mechanical contract company. Jasmine Morgan from Georgia realized her dream of becoming a sports marketing specialist through her experience with CTE. Alex Wolff embarked on a successful career in electrical engineering after participating in a CTE program in his home state of California.
 
These are just a few examples of the power CTE has to help students achieve their dreams and reach their full potential. However, changes to federal law need to be made, and that’s what we are here to discuss today — updating career and technical education policies so more students can enjoy success like Paul, Jasmine, and Alex.
 
The Perkins Act hasn’t been updated in more than a decade. I don’t have to tell you that much has changed in the workplace and our economy since then. Technology has advanced, consumer needs have shifted, and the country has struggled through a slow, tough economic recovery.
 
By strengthening CTE policies, we have an opportunity to ensure the law reflects the current realities facing students, workers, and employers today. It’s an important opportunity — one that allows us not only to help more Americans seize opportunities in the workforce but to help them excel in the high-skilled jobs that exist today.
 
In recent years, we’ve heard more and more about the “skills gap” — the idea that there are more job opportunities in this country than there are workers with the knowledge and skills necessary to fill them. You heard me correctly. Even with too many Americans still unemployed, millions of job openings exist. The sad truth is we simply haven’t prepared students for them.
 
This need for skilled labor exists in a number of critical industries. In manufacturing alone, six out of 10 positions go unfilled because of the skills gap, and 84 percent of manufacturers agree there is a talent shortage. What’s worse is that if current projections continue, more than 6 million jobs will remain unfilled by the year 2020.
 
Something needs to change, and improving career and technical education is a great way to help bring about that change. Fortunately, we aren’t starting from scratch.
 
Last year, Congress came very close to passing a bipartisan bill that would deliver much-needed CTE reforms. Through a bipartisan effort led by Representatives Glenn Thompson and Katherine Clark, this committee unanimously approved legislation to strengthen CTE. Let me pause to repeat that: unanimously approved legislation.
 
The important reforms in that legislation would empower state and local leaders to respond to changing education and economic needs. They would support innovative learning opportunities for students and help build better community partnerships, including stronger engagement with local employers. They would also improve accountability to ensure CTE programs are delivering real results and hardworking taxpayer dollars are being well spent.
 
That legislation went on to pass the House with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 405 to 5. It also enjoyed broad support outside of Congress from groups representing students, schools, employers, and those in the civil rights community.

 

These commonsense, bipartisan reforms provide us with a strong foundation to continue working to improve the law. Through hearings like this one and the legislative work ahead, we have an opportunity to help fill jobs, empower more individuals to achieve their goals, and provide more students a pathway to success.

I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us today and look forward to hearing their stories and experiences about the power of CTE, and what we can do to make it better. I know Mike Rowe has been working for years to elevate CTE, as well as all kinds of “dirty jobs” and the men and women employed in these fields. His efforts have helped shine a light on countless Americans whose hard work and quiet determination help move this great country forward. We appreciate all that you’ve done to support this country’s students and workers, and we look forward to your testimony.