Martha Roby: Connecting today’s students with tomorrow’s careers

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 The June jobs report was released Friday, and it shows some positive economic progress. Wages are up and the economy added 222,000 jobs, far exceeding expectations for June. The national unemployment rate ticked up by a tenth to 4.4 percent, but economists say that’s actually healthy because it was caused by more Americans joining the workforce. Alabama’s unemployment rate sits at 4.9 percent, which is its lowest level in nine years.

All this is welcome news, and our focus going forward must be continuing the positive momentum. The House of Representatives has recently taken several measures to foster economic growth and opportunity, and I am particularly proud of our work to strengthen career and technical education to support our workforce.

I’m a big believer in career tech programs for three simple reasons: They help prepare students for rewarding careers; they ensure American workers have the necessary training for skilled trades that are foundational to our society; and they boost local economies by producing a quality workforce.

For more than 30 years, federal funding known as Perkins funding has helped support career tech programs at the state and local level. Recently, the House passed H.R. 2353, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, to reauthorize this funding and make needed improvements to ensure Perkins dollars are spent efficiently and effectively.

When it comes to higher education, there has been a silent stigma attached to not completing an academic degree at a four-year university. For too long society refused to acknowledge that college really isn’t for everyone and that a solid career tech education can actually lead many Americans to a better quality of life.

Thankfully, I believe those days are over. Efforts like Mike Rowe’s “Go Build America” campaign have been successful in raising awareness and dispelling myths about the jobs that exist in skilled trades. Law enforcement, automotive technology, welding, carpentry, machine technology, transportation and logistics, health science, and information technology are just some of the high-demand career fields students can pursue through a career tech program.

Our state is fortunate to have a strong network of community colleges offering a wide variety of career training. Alabama’s Community College System has more than 79,000 students enrolled in career tech programs, and more than 70 Alabama public high schools offer CTE courses. They are working hand-in-glove with industries to make sure the training matches the jobs that will be waiting for students when they complete their courses.

Alabama’s 2nd District is home to thriving career tech programs at places like Trenholm State Community College in Montgomery, Wallace Community College in Dothan and their Sparks Campus in Eufaula, Enterprise State Community College campuses in Enterprise and Ozark, Ingram State Technical College in Deatsville, Reid State Technical College in Evergreen, and Lurleen B. Wallace Community College campuses in Andalusia, Opp, and Greenville. Many high schools are now partnering with nearby community colleges to offer students courses closer to home. I’ve had the privilege of visiting many of these campuses and seeing firsthand the quality training being offered.

As encouraged as I am about our current system, I see so much more potential for students and local communities through proper investment in quality career tech programs. The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act provides that with more than $5.9 billion over the next five years. However, the bill is so much more than just funding. The bill also simplifies the application process for grants, provides greater flexibility to program administrators so they can adjust to changing needs, improves accountability to require that career tech programs deliver results, and ensures a proper limited federal role in education.

Career tech programs connect today’s students with tomorrow’s careers by equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and experience they need to be competitive in the workforce. I will continue to do all I can to support these efforts as your Representative in Congress.

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Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband Riley and their two children.

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