Career, technical education bill passage in DC may help area programs

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: September 11, 2018 | 12:30 p.m. 

Updated Perkins Act encourages collaboration between schools, local industry, business

VIRGINIA – According to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 2015, over 1.4 million subbaccalaureate occupational credentials were awarded to students across the United States, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all undergraduate credentials awarded during that year, including those for academics. 

In addition, during that same year, data shows public institutions, like trade schools, technical, and vocational centers, awarded nearly two-thirds of all subbaccalaureate occupational credentials, with for-profit institutions, like Virginia College and ECPI University, awarded roughly one-third of those credentials, showing that many are turning to area community colleges and, for students, those technical centers in their communities and classes in their schools to receive valuable certifications and credentials that make them viable candidates for work right out of high school.

But, as these centers work to expand services, provide students with additional access to certification and hands-on experience in various trades, so too rises the need for additional support from the local, state and federal governments to make their goals a reality as demand for work-ready students continues to grow. 

Over the summer, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), who serves on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill,  was among those in the United States Senate who voted in favor of passing an updated version of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act after the bill successfully made its way through the House and to the desk of President Donald Trump, where he signed it into law in late July.

The legislation, which was last reauthorized in 2006, seeks to increase access to high-quality career and technical education programs across the United States. Within the updated Perkins Act are several pieces of Kaine’s legislation, including 2017 language that aims to raise the quality of America’s CTE programs through the Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, the Middle School Technical Education Program, which would expose middle school students to CTE programs focused on career exploration, and the CTE Excellence and Equity Act, which seeks to support re-designing the high school experience to include courses more relevant to the modern workforce to better prepare all students for future careers.

“Investing in job training programs is how we can ensure students from all ages and walks of life are prepared with the skills they need for successful careers,” Sen. Kaine remarked, having himself worked in his father’s ironworking shop and served as an advocate of increased access to career and technical education programs. “Again and again, I hear from manufacturers and business owners across Virginia that need more skilled workers to fill good, in-demand jobs. I’m thrilled the Senate has finally passed this legislation to expose students to more career possibilities at a younger age and help close the skills gap.”

In the updated Perkins Act, a number of Kaine’s priorities made up the final product that passed the Senate, including efforts to improve the recruitment and retention of highly effective CTE teachers, school leaders, and counselors, along with supporting the integration of professional development opportunities between academic teachers and CTE teachers, strengthening the definition of what constitute rigorous CTE curriculum to align with local, regional, and state workforce demands, and encouraging school districts to form partnerships with local businesses, regional industries, institutions of higher education, and other community stakeholders to make sure they are preparing students well for future employment opportunities, among others. 

Many of the things being discussed in Washington, D.C. by Kaine and lawmakers surrounding CTE support have found their way to Southside Virginia and Rowanty Technical Center, as was revealed when the center hosted Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni and Governor Ralph Northam’s Chief Workforce Advisor Megan Healy earlier this year. Led on a tour of the facility by the school’s director Cheryl Simmers, both Qarni and Healy spent time with students and instructors who not only shared their craft with as they entered the center’s various labs during the regular school day, but discussions were had by the small delegation of local school leaders from Prince George and Dinwiddie County about the need for more support of CTE programs like the ones at Rowanty and other efforts being carried out in school divisions across the county. 

Among Kaine’s priorities in the updated Perkins Act was the encouraging of school districts to form partnerships with local businesses and regional industries and, for Simmers and Rowanty, that’s a priority item that has been in action for a number of years through the center’s partnerships and relationship building with local industry and business owners, including successful job fairs at the center, and efforts to foster an environment for students to feel as though they are “at work” when walking in the doors of Rowanty and to have a sense of pride about the work they are doing.

“One of the things we do is we develop relationships with the students,” Simmers remarked during the tour. “We try to show them how you work at a job and in the workplace. Sitting at a desk with a book doesn’t do that. Giving them a board to practice on is great, but, for example, being able to install a wall socket, building a shed that is going to be taken to a manned waste site in Sussex, it’s about building a sense of ownership and these students take great pride in what they are doing and seeing how enthusiastic they were to share what they are working on is success to me.”

When looking within the state, according to the most recent data available from the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education Services, as of the 2013-2014 school year, over 103,000 credentials were earned by Virginia students that year, up from the 67,000 earned the previous year. In addition, the number of those receiving industry certification continues to rise, with over 69,000 students receiving those certifications, also up from the just under 40,000 in 2012-2013, allowing students to have a grasp of job-related skills and knowledge to stand out in the ever-competitive job market.

In addition, numbers provided by the NCES show, of the 1.4 million subbaccalaureate occupational credentials awarded in 2015, “75 percent of these credentials were awarded in the four subject fields of health sciences, the trades – which includes construction, repair, and transportation fields, consumer services, and business management.” 

Schools like Rowanty, which provides a number of those courses, including nursing, cosmetology, and several courses in what the NCES refers to as “the trades,” and their impact on local workforces in the Commonwealth, particularly those centers that do provide students with access to credentials and certifications as they graduate and head to the workforce has not been lost on the Commonwealth, a fact that was evident during Qarni’s visit to the center this year.

“It is really good that Rowanty is providing that mechanism for a lot of young people to go through and get that training, get their credentials and then go to filling these high-paying jobs,” he said during his tour. “That is a big priority for myself and the governor.”

He continued, “From our perspective, we will certainly be providing any support that we can to help bolster the programs. We really believe that technical centers are very important in helping get our workforce ready for the future. Right now, we in the top ten when it comes to jobs and the economy, but we want Virginia to be number one. We have great centers like Rowanty doing good work and we want to keep supporting them so we can really be a great state for jobs.”

According to the Virginia Department of Education, CTE programs in the Commonwealth’s public schools “serve more than 640,000 students in one or more CTE courses in grades 6-12.”

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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