Several House Republicans this week spoke on the House floor about the importance of more broadly promoting career and technical education to help reduce the skills gap.
Using a special order to speak on the House floor about workforce development, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, on Tuesday said there is a disconnect between education and the 6.6 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. — which her GOP colleagues on the committee also emphasized.
“Those jobs are unfilled because too many Americans are unskilled, despite the fact that we have a record-high number of people attending postsecondary education,” said the former community college president. She noted that her committee’s PROSPER Act — a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act — would take steps to narrow the gap.
Several lawmakers joining Foxx on the House floor said that businesses in their districts thanked them for the recent tax reforms — but that’s only part of the solution. A skilled workforce is part of the equation, and businesses simply cannot find enough workers.
“We are seeing that many college students are graduating with crippling student loan debt and have trouble finding a job, while we have a shortage of skilled labor positions, such as welders, machinists, truck drivers and people with other needed skills,” said Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kansas).
Although the speakers cited education as part of the problem for not making students more aware of trade and technical career options, they did note that community colleges, universities, K-12, and business and industry must work together to overcome the skills gap. Estes cited efforts in Kansas where those sectors have teamed to better prepare students for local positions. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Michigan) added that in his state several community colleges, career centers and school districts are leading the way in career and technical education.
“These programs have helped numerous students thrive and develop a diverse and marketable skill set that prospective employers are seeking,” he said.
Foxx added that a liberal education is important, but most people go to college to help them attain the knowledge and skills to find good-paying jobs.
“We don’t want to diminish the role of liberal education,” she said. “We want to just make sure that students have a clear understanding of what their choices are going to be when they enter a postsecondary institution and what they might expect when they exit that institution.”
In addition to the PROSPER Act, several Republicans also noted a House bill to rework the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Act, which Congress has not updated in more than a decade.