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Jackson Cit Pat: Preparing for Success in 21st Century Workplace

February 29, 2016
Opinion Editorial
February is Career and Technical Education Month, a time to raise awareness and recognize vital efforts to help today's students prepare for tomorrow's jobs.

Rapid advancements in science and technology continue to impact the economic landscape, the types of jobs available, and the skills necessary to do them.

Here in Jackson County, the Jackson Area Career Center and Jackson College are prime examples of effectively equipping the next generation to compete for the in-demand jobs of the modern economy.

Working in collaboration with local high schools and private sector businesses, they provide students with valuable hands-on experience and an environment to learn employable skills in a diverse range of fields.

As a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, one of my top priorities is providing high quality educational opportunities to help every student reach his or her full potential.

To help more students jumpstart their careers, we need to reauthorize and reform the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The law, last reauthorized in 2006, enhances career and technical education and provides support for local high school and community college programs that offer real-world experience.

Programs designed to train and support adults already in the workforce also need to be strengthened.

Last Congress, we overwhelmingly passed, and President Barack Obama signed into law, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The law improves and modernizes our nation's outdated network of job training services, eliminates duplicate workforce programs, and creates a more streamlined system. It increases accountability and saves taxpayer dollars, while also making it easier for job seekers to find the program most tailored to their individual needs.

Sadly, many of the law's improvements have been delayed by the Department of Labor, leaving the benefits of a modernized and more effective workforce development system on the sideline.

Manufacturing is one industry in particular where stronger technical education and job training programs would help more Americans secure good-paying jobs.

According to a study by the Manufacturing Institute, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade. However, two million of these openings are expected to go unfilled due to prospective employees not having the necessary skills to fill them.

This shortfall, known as the skills gap, illustrates the significant need to encourage more Americans to pursue promising, high-skilled careers available in manufacturing and other innovative industries.

America's sluggish economy still faces many challenges and is leaving behind hard-working families and Main Street businesses.

Millions of able-bodied Americans have left the workforce and given up hope of finding a good-paying job. Millions more want full-time work but are stuck in a part-time job. Wages are stagnant and far too many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck without getting a raise in years.

We need to do more to help working families get ahead and restore confidence that a brighter future and a healthy economy is within reach.

Let's start with maximizing investments in our nation's best asset – a talented, hard-working American workforce – and increasing opportunities to develop skills to thrive in the 21st century workplace.

— U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, represents the 7th Congressional District, which includes Jackson County. This op-ed originally appeared in the February 29 edition of the Jackson Citizen Patriot.