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Can We All Agree on Need for More Career-Tech Education

December 18, 2018

This article is from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Many Georgians may still be reeling from November's divisive gubernatorial election. But while the natural instinct can be to retreat to partisan bunkers, this only worsens polarization and makes forward progress for the state more difficult. Instead, the smoothest path to reconciliation involves a new administration pursuing an agenda that all citizens can get behind. One issue in particular holds the potential for the state to cut through our polarized climate: career and technical education, or CTE.

In an election that drew national attention, CTE proved a rare point of agreement. Governor-elect Brian Kemp pledged to encourage the creation of career pathways to help prepare Georgia students for 21st century jobs. His opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, touted her "cradle to career" plan and specifically called out technical colleges and apprenticeships as worthy of support.

CTE holds unique potential to bring stakeholders from politics, business, higher education, philanthropy and economic development together because it offers true value for a variety of constituencies – from providing businesses with the supply of skilled workers they need, to offering underserved communities a pathway to the middle class.

This bipartisan support has energized state and federal efforts to expand CTE opportunities. Earlier this year, Congress reauthorized the Perkins Act, the primary federal law governing funding for CTE programs, on a unanimous bipartisan basis, a rarity in these times. In 2017, 49 states and the District of Columbia passed 241 policies related to CTE and career readiness.

It's not surprising that CTE has drawn such widespread support: the skills gap – the gap between the skills workers have and the ones employers require – is growing, hurting both businesses' ability to compete and workers' ability to find quality jobs. Here in Georgia, 55 percent of jobs require training beyond high school, but only 43 percent of workers are trained to that level.

Georgians have already made notable progress investing in skill building for adults, leading to growth in dual-credit and apprenticeship options in recent years. Corporations based here in Atlanta have also stepped up to the plate, making major contributions to worker training. Home Depot has pledged $50 million to train construction workers, and Delta Air Lines has partnered with 37 schools across the country to train students in aviation maintenance.

These are important steps. But even as political and business leaders have started to acknowledge the importance of an educated workforce in powering the economy, the skills gap has persisted. We, as a state, must take an expansive view of the challenge posed by the skills gap and break down the silos that keep businesses and education from working together to solve this problem.

In choosing where we can most effectively apply resources and train students to fill high-demand jobs, my campus relies on local labor market data and feedback from small businesses and work with Atlanta employers to help students get real-world externship opportunities. After seeing labor market data showing that demand is expected to grow more than 11 percent over the next few years in the metro area, we launched a surgical technology program that will prepare students to meet that demand and pursue sustainable careers in the field.

But we can't do it alone. Working in conjunction with the state government, we have the ability to systematically bring career colleges, businesses and workforce development institutions to the table to share information and dialogue about the skills needed for the jobs of the present and the future.

For cities and states, economic success in the 21st century is increasingly tied to workforce development. And like Amazon's recent HQ2 competition, for which Atlanta was a finalist but not ultimately selected, a CTE push would foster civic pride and a sense that as Georgians, we have a shared responsibility to educate and train our students for the jobs of the future, that we're all in this together.

Because we are.

Unless we come together to invest in CTE and solve the problem of the skills gap, we will fail our students, our workers and our businesses, and our ability to compete in the 21st century global economy will be diminished.

Georgia has a real opportunity to bring the state together to work on the bipartisan issue of CTE in the wake of the election. By making CTE a top priority, we can build a career education pipeline that powers a more prosperous and united Georgia.

By Moses Delaney, campus director of Altierus Career College-Norcross

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