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ICYMI: College isn’t always the best path for teens

College isn’t always the best path for teens

By Secretary Alexander Acosta and Chairwoman Virginia Foxx

When Americans make career choices, they should be encouraged to consider a broad range of options that fit their diverse talents and interests.

For many, their career path will take them to higher education. That was the case for us. A university degree is right for many young people, yet it is not the only route to career success.

We need to change the perception of a single “right” career path. To that end, we are encouraging leaders from business, labor, educational institutions and trade associations to recognize the benefits of apprenticeships.

Rep. Foxx’s approach to this priority is shaped by her brother’s experience. He once asked her a heartbreaking question: Would she be ashamed of him if he didn’t follow her down the path to college?

Her brother made a choice right for him, becoming a master carpenter. Instead of pursuing an expensive degree that he did not need and that did not suit his goals, he obtained a certification that allowed him to launch a career. An American working a job that is rewarding and meaningful should be celebrated in our nation.

When evaluating success, the focus should be on outputs instead of inputs. Rather than focusing on higher education acceptance rates and tuition fees, we should focus on helping students access the programs that will actually help them achieve what they want to achieve in life.

We encourage leaders in middle school and high school education to reconsider the different ways they disproportionately judge student success through college acceptance rates. Instead, the priority should be putting students on a path to career success – whether that is a university degree, a community college, or a workforce program. We need to close the “career awareness gap.” Schools should show students the wide range of career options available to them, with details like salary information and educational requirements of those options. Students deserve a fuller picture when they make important career decisions.

We need to increase opportunities to build skills through workplace education by rapidly expanding the apprenticeship model. Apprenticeships enable students to earn while they learn. Apprentices develop skills they can use across the country, meeting industry demand for skilled workers.

President Trump’s executive order expanding apprenticeships in America boosts the apprenticeship model by directing the Department of Labor to work with business leaders, labor leaders, educational institutions, trade associations and public officials to promote new, high-quality apprenticeships.

This model inserts flexibility into the process so that stakeholders can design programs to meet the needs of their industries and be nimble enough to respond to the changes of a dynamic economy. These initiatives will be custom solutions built to high standards and will not be micromanaged from Washington.

We are partners when it comes to modernizing workplace education. With over 6 million Americans looking for jobs and more than 6 million open jobs nationwide, it’s time to change how we prepare Americans for the workforce. That starts with a commitment to respecting all career choices Americans make to develop the skills that will lead them to excel in family-sustaining jobs.

Acosta is the U.S. Secretary of Labor. Rep. Foxx, a Republican, represents North Carolina’s 5th District and chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee.

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