Ten years is a long time to go without an update – imagine if the first-generation iPhone, once considered cutting-edge technology, hadn’t changed at all in the last decade. With technological advancement occurring at ever-increasing speed, it seems surprising that a law meant to better align career and technical education (CTE) programs with students in need of new skills and employers in need of qualified workers hasn’t been updated in more than a decade.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved by voice vote a bipartisan update to this law, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R.2353). Discussion around the bill echoed that of the recent National Science Board quarterly meeting, which highlighted the shifting demographics of the STEM workforce, which includes ocean engineers and marine scientists. Technology doesn’t advance on its own; it requires a skilled workforce, not entirely made up of those with four-year college degrees. Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (NC-4) stated, “There’s a common misperception that the path to success begins on the campus of our nations’ baccalaureate colleges and universities. This simply isn’t true.” She observed that CTE has “helped countless men and women gain the knowledge, skills, and real world experience they need to succeed in the workforce.” However, in the decade since the federal law supporting CTE has been updated, many educational institutions have not caught up with technologic advances, resulting in a skills gap that makes it challenging for employers to find the workers they need. She touted the bill as supporting strong community partnerships so students can gain real world experience with local education leaders and employers. Providing the necessary education to close this gap is even more critical than ever; the bill’s sponsor, Representative Glenn Thompson (PA-5) cited a study that estimates three million infrastructure workers will need to be replaced in the next decade – this includes workers who build and maintain sea ports, bridges, and other coastal infrastructure.
While the bill is expected to pass the House as a similar version did in 2016, its future in the Senate is less clear. Partisan concerns regarding the Secretary of Education’s authority over implementing funding stalled last year’s similar bill in the upper chamber. All present at the committee markup could agree the federal law was in dire need of an upgrade. “By considering this legislation today,” Representative Thompson lauded, “we come closer to ensure these jobs will be filled by a skilled and well-trained American workforce.”