U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has unveiled a blueprint for advancing career and technical education to address the shortage of critical skills in growing industries such as IT and advanced manufacturing.
Duncan's push for Congress to reauthorize the 2006 Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act comes as the administration continues to pursue policies to educate and train workers for a shifting labor market where quality jobs increasingly require some form of higher education.
"I think this is an industry that is demanding this," Duncan told reporters on a conference call. "We have at least 2 million high-wage, high-skill jobs that we can't fill in this country."
"We don't have a jobs issue, a jobs crisis. We have a skills crisis," he added.
Jobs of the Furture
According to the Education Department, 60 percent of the jobs added last year went to workers with at least a bachelor's degree, while 90 percent went to those with at least some postsecondary education. The department projects that up to two-thirds of the jobs created over the next decade will require some level of postsecondary education.
The plan to overhaul career and technical education, what Duncan termed "CTE 2.0," would focus on core areas such as aligning postsecondary education with the skills that employers are expecting from new hires and collaboration among schools, businesses and other stakeholders to develop broadly consistent standards of quality for CTE programs.
"This blueprint will better prepare America's youth for college and careers," said Stanley Litow, IBM's vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs and the president of the IBM International Foundation, who joined Duncan on the conference call to lend an industry endorsement for the new plan. "A high school [education] isn't nearly enough in the 21st century economy."
The administration is proposing $1 billion to fund the Perkins Act reauthorization.
The framework for advancing career and technical education aligns with other education initiatives of the Obama administration, including the broad goal for the nation to lead the world in college graduation rates by 2020, and a partnership program that pairs community colleges with local businesses to develop skills-training curricula.
In the fiscal 2013 budget, the administration has proposed $8 billion to fund the Community College to Career initiative, as well as $1 billion to boost participation among high school students in the Career Academies program, which incorporate elements of college-level, career-oriented curricula in secondary school, offering students instruction in areas such as engineering and health care.
Tech Skills Shortage: Feds and Biz Need to Collaborate
Last week, in testimony before a Senate subcommittee, senior administration officials outlined their efforts to address the skills shortage and better equip workers for jobs in the tech sector and high-end manufacturing. Much like the new Education Department initiative, they stressed the need for broad collaboration between federal programs and the business community.
"It's really important that we always begin with the business," Jane Oates, assistant secretary of employment and training administration at the Department of Labor, told the panel. "If we don't talk to business, we're going to sell our workforce short."
Oates noted that many employers resort to hiring skilled foreign workers under the H-1B visa program to perform tasks such as Web page design that employees with some level of postsecondary education short of a bachelor's degree could easily handle, but business leaders say those workers are in short supply.
"You don't need a four-year degree to be a Web page designer," she said, noting that thousands of H-1B workers are doing just that. "We're working to make people understand that with one year or two years of technical training you can design a Web page."
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.