All across the nation there has been a surge of interest in career and technical education programs brought on by the pressing need to connect youth with meaningful career readiness opportunities. The recent TIME Magazine cover story on IBM’s P-TECH-model schools in Chicago and New York is the latest example of America’s growing interest in innovative partnerships that bridge the divide between the classroom and world of work. Many employers, like IBM, are stepping up their engagement with schools to help prepare students for the modern economy. The time is right for Congress to act in kind and to support the reauthorization and modernization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.
The Perkins Act is widely recognized as an important resource in helping connect the education system to the needs of the business community. If employers throughout the U.S. are to maintain their economic competitiveness, it will be through programs like the Perkins Act that help build the skills employers need to grow. The Perkins Act dates to 1988 and provides over $1 billion in federal funding to states to support career and technical education programs in high schools, community colleges, and related institutions across the country. While the Perkins Act has made important contributions to supporting career readiness, closing the ever-widening skills gap requires a renewed emphasis on career preparation programs and a rethinking of priorities moving forward.
Employers have been proactive in their attempt to lay a foundation for modernized career and technical education. Programs like P-TECH have challenged assumptions about real and meaningful employer engagement, linkages between secondary and postsecondary programs, the integration of work-based learning and stackable credentialing. Congress
and policymakers across the country would be well served to learn from these bold experiments and to capitalize on these investments by making them the new normal and not the exception.
There never has been a more urgent time to transform our nation’s approach to education and employment. As we continue to grow the economy and advance America’s competitiveness, it will be accomplished in large part through the talent, skills and contributions of its students, workers and entrepreneurs. It’s time for Congress to embrace what’s working and to partner with employers on the reauthorization of the Perkins Act.
Cheryl Oldham is Vice President of Education Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.