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In June 2017, the House of Representatives reauthorized the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The reauthorization, called the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, renews federal funding for state and local education and workforce development initiatives in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. It will allow approximately $1 billion per year through fiscal year 2023 to be put towards closing key skills gaps so students are better prepared to enter the workforce.

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The Skills Gap Isn’t As Cut and Dry As It Seems

The idea of a “skills gap” has been met with everything from criticism and skepticism to support. Critics claim employers only perceive the shortage of qualified workers, while others argue the skills gap is real and it’s the reason they have difficulty filling positions (which is a real threat to their businesses). Some common misconceptions: the skills gap is not necessarily the cause of high (or low) unemployment rates, and “skills” doesn’t refer to employees without basic skills like reading, writing and math. Even if employers agree that they can’t fill positions, they don’t agree on why. Is the scarcity due to a lack of applicants, hard or soft skills, experience, or are applicants asking for too much pay?

Part of the problem is that higher education and technical training programs can’t keep up with industry trends and technological advancements. By the time an education program is developed, it’s already out-of-date making it harder for graduates to compete in the job market. If schools aren’t teaching the skills the job market is looking for/needs, what is the solution?

A change to legislation could help; the last update to the Perkins Act came in 2006. Some points of reference: the first tweet was sent in 2006, the first iPhone debuted in 2007, and Instagram wouldn’t be around until 2010. Think about how much has changed in the way people work since 2006! Supporters of the bill hope extra funding, and more targeted funding, will help create more modern, agile training systems built for rapid change and can integrate new technologies and practices.

Connecting the Public and Private Sector

The primary goal of the bills is to better connect career and technical education (CTE) training programs to emerging industries so they can respond better and faster to changing trends. It encourages education and training programs to partner with local employers to develop programs and goals. Hopefully bringing businesses and educators closer together will provide better skills-based training for students to get in-demand job skills so they can face the realities of the job market. These connections can create stronger, more innovative and supportive learning environments.

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One of the key components of the reauthorization is flexibility. The regulations allow states to have more control over how their career and technical programs are created. States and localities can tailor programs that are regionally relevant to better meet their communities’ needs. The bill simplifies some of the funding requirements so getting and using federal funds is easier. States will be accountable for how that funding is used, and will have to track and report on their performance.

The bill still needs to make its way through the Senate before the President can sign it. So watch this space for more updates on its status.