Promoting career-technical paths

“College … it’s worth it.” That’s true for some. But for millions of underemployed Americans — and for the good of the country as well as for millions of other Americans — skilled workers in the trades will help keep America strong while providing excellent jobs with excellent benefits for many.

We applaud US Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who espoused these sentiments Wednesday on the Senate floor.

During Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, Portman delivered remarks about CTE and the opportunities it is providing young students across Ohio and the United States. Portman, co-founder of the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus and author of the Education Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, expressed his support for expanding CTE programs to help close the skills gap and put more Ohioans to work.

As part of his efforts to close the skills gap, Portman recently joined Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) to introduce the bipartisan JOBS Act to help students access training for the 5.5 million vacant jobs that are unfilled in part because of a shortage of qualified workers. Portman’s commitment to CTE compliments his work to help expand access to college, make it more affordable for students, parents and families, and help new graduates get good jobs so that they can achieve financial independence and become debt-free.

“Over the last six years, my home state of Ohio has come a long way,” Portman said. “We’ve turned a record deficit into a billion-dollar rainy day fund. We have created lots of new jobs. But we also have a problem in Ohio and around the country, and that is the skills gap. If you go on ‘Ohio Means Jobs,’ a website right now, I think you will see 122,000 jobs being offered. In other words, these are companies saying we’re looking for people.

“At the same time in Ohio today, we have about 280,000 people who are out of work. So how could that be, you ask. Well, if you look at the jobs and you look at what the descriptions are, many are jobs that require skills, and some of these skills are not available right now in the workforce. So you could get a lot of people put back to work just by developing these skills in Ohio.

“At the same time, this is happening around the country, and this skills gap — this mismatch between the skills that are in demand in the local economy and the skills of a worker — is something that can be dealt with more aggressively through Career and Technical Education.

“Businesses want to invest more, they want to make better products, but they can’t do so if they can’t find the right people. By the way, when those skilled workers aren’t available, often those jobs go somewhere else. So in the case of Ohio, some may go to other states, let’s say, Indiana, but some go to other countries, let’s say India. If you don’t have the skilled workforce, you’re not going to be able to keep the jobs that we want here in America because workers are such a critical part of making a business successful.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics at the Department of Labor says that the typical unemployed worker today has been unemployed for about six months. So we have this long-term unemployment – again, the skills gap would help to deal with that. More than 5.8 million Americans are now stuck in part-time work who would like full-time work. So we’ve got some challenges in our economy and the skills training would really help.

“According to a survey from Deloitte, 98 of the 100 biggest privately-held employers in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio — 98 out of 100 — say they are struggling to find qualified workers. There’s a shortage of machinists, machine operators in our manufacturing state. There’s also a shortage of other jobs, IT skills, health care skills. Companies want to hire but they’re having a hard time finding workers with those right skills.

“One thing we’ve heard about from the administration and also from both sides of the aisle here is the need for more infrastructure — funding for repairing our crumbling roads and bridges, our water systems, our wastewater systems — I think that’s all true. But, by the way, it’s going to be tough to do it unless we have the skilled workers to rebuild that infrastructure. So I think it’s an area of common ground where if we have skilled workers, it’s much more likely we’ll be able to modernize that infrastructure. We had a conference on this issue a couple of weeks ago here in the Congress.

We brought some people in from Ohio from the building trades, and the point they made was: we’d love to see this infrastructure expansion everybody is talking about, but who’s going to do the work? We need more skills training to be sure that’s there. …”

Portman has visited with teachers and students across Ohio who are involved in Career and Technical Education. We hope Ohioans and from every other state, from business leaders and owners to young students contemplating their career path, heed the call and recognize there is a huge demand for Americans to head down — or rather rise up — the career-technical path.