It’s Not Too Late for Congress to Invest in the Workforce in FY 2020

As of August 2019, there were only 1.1 available workers for every job opening. A decade ago, there were 7.2. While there might be enough people to fill the nation’s vacant jobs, many of these vacancies go unfilled because those people don’t have the right technical skills for the open jobs. For instance, earlier this year the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job openings in construction fields increased to the highest level ever recorded since the data was first collected nearly 20 years ago. Taking an even deeper dive, National Roofing Contractors Association members recently reported that chronic workforce shortages are the roofing industry’s greatest challenge, and that production could be increased 10 to 20 percent if these positions were filled. And these aren’t low-wage positions — BLS reports that the mean hourly wage for roofing field employees in 2018 was $21.09.

But there is good news: we know a major solution to the problem. Career and technical education (CTE) helps prepare learners — youth and adults — for careers in virtually every sector of the economy. From healthcare to manufacturing, IT, roofing and more, CTE can deliver the rigorous, high-quality, in-demand skills that employers need. CTE credentials are often earned through subbaccalaureate programming at community and technical colleges, though many students begin their pursuits in high school.

Industry demand for these programs is high — in the roofing industry, more than 90 percent of roofing contractors nationwide have experienced labor shortages in the last year. In other fields, healthcare occupations are projected to grow by 14 percent, careers in certain renewable energy-related fields are set to increase by upwards of 50 percent, more than 80 percent of manufacturers report talent shortages, and half of all STEM jobs call for workers with less than a bachelor’s degree. However, there is one problem: administering these programs is often more expensive than traditional academic programming. For example, specialized instructors are in short supply and oftentimes have more lucrative private sector opportunities, and equipment costs can be significant. Fortunately, the federal government recognizes the critical role CTE programs play in fueling the American workforce pipeline, and provides CTE funding (commonly dubbed “Perkins funding” for the name of the authorizing legislation) to the tune of nearly $1.3 billion annually.

But there’s bad news: federal funding is woefully inadequate to truly address the problem. In real dollars, Perkins funding is more than $500 million less than it was 15 years ago, and this says nothing of the growing skills gap. Moreover, a rumored year-long continuing resolution (CR) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 that would keep Perkins funding stagnant only further threatens to delay and deprive future workers from obtaining the workforce skills they need to succeed.

There can be a happy ending, however. Increasing Perkins funding is a bipartisan priority. Indeed, bipartisan letters urging strong investments in CTE for FY 2020 were signed by more than 200 Representatives and Senators, ranging from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). As the looming December 20 CR expiration approaches, Congress should prioritize investments in the nation’s future workforce by increasing funding to Perkins and high-quality CTE programs.

LeAnn Wilson is the executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), which represents tens of thousands of education professionals and is the nation’s largest not-for-profit association committed to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for successful careers. Ms. Wilson can be reached at lwilson@acteonline.org.

Reid J. Ribble is the CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association, one of the nation’s oldest trade associations and the voice of roofing professionals worldwide with contractors, manufacturers, distributors, consultants and other employers in all 50 states. Mr. Ribble can be reached at rribble@nrca.net.

Association for Career and Technical Education

ACTE is a nonprofit association committed to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for successful careers. Learn more at acteonline.org.

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