IT ALL starts with a spark, a twinkle in the eye of a student who has found her passion, solidified his future.
He might have just completed a career and technical education (CTE) program in manufacturing technology. She may have figured out a high-level math problem.
One thing is sure: These two students are on their way to achieving their dreams even before receiving a high school diploma.
But the United States is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to enrolling students in CTE programs.
According to a study done by the Department of Education in 2013, only 6 percent of high school students in the U.S. were enrolled in courses related to a trade or career—compared to 42 percent in the United Kingdom, 59 percent in Germany and 67 percent in the Netherlands.
Strengthening America’s education system is important in fostering innovation and promoting our economic security. We must be preparing our young people, and provide them with the necessary skills and knowledge to compete in a global economy.
That requires supporting local and state career and technical education programs and an increased focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
They work hand in hand. CTE is a catalyst for STEM education.
To put this in perspective, there are currently 600,000 unfilled skilled jobs in the United States. The National Federation of Independent Business reported that as of first-quarter 2017, 45 percent of its small businesses were unable to find qualified applicants to fill job openings.
Research indicates that almost half of all STEM jobs require less than a bachelor’s degree. With students facing record education-related debt averaging $37,000, and less than 30 percent of college graduates working in jobs related to their major, STEM offers a great alternative.
It is also a tremendous opportunity for our young people. But we must examine the skills needed in today’s workforce and apply real-world requirements to academic curriculum.
In Congress, we have been working to implement policies that emphasize the importance of skills and education in building a strong national workforce.
In June, the House passed H.R. 2353, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for 21st Century Act, to increase the capabilities of community and technical colleges to identify and train students in career and technical education programs.
This bill returns power to states by freeing up budget constraints and allowing them to prioritize funding for rural areas and areas with a high percentage of CTE participants.
As a member of the CTE and STEM caucuses, I am working hard to bring STEM and career and technical education to the forefront of our nation’s education system.
The past few months, I have been on a STEM/CTE Tour of the northern part of the First District. It started with touring FredCAT, a new learning facility in Fredericksburg, followed by a tour of a new technical education facility in Spotsylvania.
In February, I spoke with students and instructors at a STEM summit in Fredericksburg. I capped off my tour last week with visits to two high schools in Prince William County: Patriot High and Stonewall Jackson High. I was extremely impressed by the percentage of students enrolled in CTE/STEM courses. This just proves that our efforts to emphasize these programs are working.
This May, I will be holding a CTE/STEM symposium that will bridge the gap between the businesses that create the demand for our workforce and our students, allowing them to take the next step towards a brighter future.
I am committed to ensuring that our children and young adults have access to quality education and the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century.
Rep. Rob Wittman represents Virginia’s First District in the U.S. House of Representatives.