The Quiet Progress of Career Education

With much of the oxygen in Washington, D.C., being taken up by the health care debate, foreign entanglements and White House palace intrigue, career education and workforce development has been an issue on which Congress has quietly made positive progress. Approaching 2018, policymakers still have opportunities to ride this momentum and significantly improve access to career-focused and industry-driven education for learners of all ages.

Perhaps the largest congressional action on this issue has been the passage of The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353) by the U.S. House of Representatives. This overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation, introduced by Rep. Glen “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) seeks to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and was unanimously passed by the House on June 22.   

Originally passed in 2006, the Carl D. Perkins Act authorizes federal support for career and technical education (CTE) programs in local school districts. The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act makes significant and essential improvements to this legislation. By strengthening the nation’s CTE system, Congress seeks to ensure that more students have access to the high-quality career education programs and industry-recognized credentials that construction industry groups such as Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and its partners provide in communities across America.  

Not all states and regions have the same industry and skill needs, so key among these legislative improvements is greater flexibility for states to spend these valuable federal resources on programs that prepare students for local in-demand careers. The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act also promotes and incentivizes greater alignment between educators and employers to ensure students are learning the right skills and can maximize their career readiness for high-growth industries such as construction.

The legislation also adds provisions to CTE oversight that encourages greater student participation in work-based learning opportunities and a more deliberate focus on delivering industry-recognized credentials. These connections to real-world learning are essential to providing students with better opportunities for post-secondary success and a significant competitive advantage on future careers.

Keep in mind there is still work to be done before the construction industry can realize the benefits of The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. The bill is now awaiting action in the U.S. Senate, where similar legislation stalled in 2016. However, with the increasing concern over college loan debt and looming skilled workforce shortages, the urgency to get this bill to the president’s desk is rapidly growing.

There are 500,000 open positions in the construction industry today, and reauthorization of the Perkins Act is not the only evidence of Congress’ concern regarding the skills gap. In committee hearings, representatives of industry, education and the public workforce system have expressed new and innovative ideas to lawmakers who are concerned about this potential economic crisis.

One such hearing on industry-driven earn-and-learn education programs was conducted by the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, and included CIANBRO Vice President and ABC Workforce Development Committee Chair Mike Bennett as a witness. 

In his testimony, Bennett highlighted the importance of flexibility and innovation into market-driven workforce development solutions. “Industry-recognized programs come in all shapes and sizes, and that is the beauty of them: They provide for the highest level of flexibility that benefits the worker, their company and their client,” Bennett said. “Industry-recognized programs give the entire American public an opportunity to learn a skill, develop themselves and build their careers.”

To truly give all Americans access to flexible, safe and high-quality career education programs like those offered by ABC’s chapters, member companies and training partners, lawmakers and construction advocates must make meaningful progress to address the skills gap and build the workforce of tomorrow. 

Mike Glavin is director of workforce policy and programs for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email or visit