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Witnesses Describe How CTE Can Help Close the Skills Gap, Empower Students to Succeed
“Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe testifies on need to reform current law


The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), held a hearing today to discuss the state of career and technical education (CTE) in America, as well as changes that can be made to strengthen CTE and better prepare students for the workforce.

“For decades, [CTE] has helped individuals compete in the workforce and build fulfilling careers … Through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the federal government provides support to these state and local programs,” Chairman Rokita said. “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.”

Drawing from personal experience, Mike Rowe, CEO of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation and television host of “Dirty Jobs” and “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” described how his education experience helped prepare him for life after high school.

“A four-year school would have been a huge mistake at that point in my life. I was seventeen years old. I had no money and no idea what I wanted to do,” he said. “The local community college offered hundreds of courses in my price range, so that’s where I went, and that experience opened doors I didn’t even know existed. But that same experience is precisely what thousands of kids are discouraged from pursuing every year.”

Rowe went on to describe how the stigma of CTE and the perception of it as a “consolation prize” is a large part of the problem.

“Millions of Americans still view a career in the trades as some kind of ‘vocational consolation prize,’” he said. “It’s a bias as misguided as any other prejudice with us today, and it poses a clear and present danger to our country's overall economic security.”

Rowe went on to explain the growing skills gap is another reason for CTE reform, saying, “The mismatch between available skilled jobs and the unemployed local population is enormous. And it’s happening everywhere.”

Janet Goble, director of CTE in Utah’s Canyons School District, echoed Rowe’s support for CTE in helping to close the skills gap, emphasizing the need for business partnerships and work-based learning opportunities.

“Business partnerships are a key component of our program of study efforts and support real-world learning experiences for our students,” Goble said. “Through their interactions with industry professionals, students realize their coursework is relevant, and, in fact, does translate into meaningful career skills and job opportunities.”

Goble’s district hosts schoolwide career fairs and annual job shadowing events to help students connect with local businesses. She explained how these events can help students decide on their career paths based on their experiences.

“Some students realize the career they shadow is not a good fit — which is a valuable experience and allows time to re-evaluate their career aspiration,” she said. “For students who have found their passion, this experience serves to cement their career decision and also gives them an opportunity to network with industry professionals.”

Glenn E. Johnson, a workforce development leader in the manufacturing industry, agreed, explaining how hands-on experience plays a key role in career path decisions.

“Surveys report that 52 percent of all teenagers say they have no interest in a manufacturing career,” he explained. “However, the data also reports that the most influential factor for students deciding what career to pursue is ‘personal experience.’ … This drives our need to do more to familiarize these workforce potentials with jobs in manufacturing technology.”

Recognizing the need for reform, Congress is working to help close the skills gap through strengthening CTE. Reforms that empower state and local leaders, improve alignment with in-demand jobs, increase transparency and accountability, and ensure the federal government plays a limited role can help better equip America’s students to compete and succeed in today’s workforce.

“Something needs to change, and improving career and technical education is a great way to help bring about that change,” Chairman Rokita said. “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.”

 

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