In Floor Speech, Says CTE Will Help Close the Skills Gap in Ohio, Create More Jobs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor about CTE and the opportunities it is providing young students across Ohio and the United States. Portman, who is the co-founder of the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus and author of the Education Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, expressed his support for expanding CTE programs to help close the skills gap and put more Ohioans to work. As part of his efforts to close the skills gap, Portman recently joined Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) to introduce the bipartisan JOBS Act to help students access training for the 5.5 million vacant jobs that are unfilled in part because of a shortage of qualified workers. Portman’s commitment to CTE compliments his work to help expand access to college, make it more affordable for students, parents and families, and help new graduates get good jobs so that they can achieve financial independence and become debt-free.

Transcript of the video can be found below and a video can be found here.

Madam President, I have come to the floor today to talk about Career and Technical Education. This is the month—the month of February—that has been set aside for a Career and Technical Education month. It’s an opportunity for us to talk about something that is working very well in some of our states and giving our young people amazing opportunities and should be expanded. 

“Over the last six years, my home state of Ohio has come a long way. We’ve turned a record deficit into a billion-dollar rainy day fund. We have created lots of new jobs. But we also have a problem in Ohio and around the country, and that is the skills gap. If you go on ‘Ohio Means Jobs,’ a website right now, I think you will see 122,000 jobs being offered. In other words, these are companies saying we’re looking for people. At the same time in Ohio today, we have about 280,000 people who are out of work. So how could that be, you ask. Well, if you look at the jobs and you look at what the descriptions are, many are jobs that require skills, and some of these skills are not available right now in the workforce. So you could get a lot of people put back to work just by developing these skills in Ohio. At the same time, this is happening around the country, and this skills gap—this mismatch between the skills that are in demand in the local economy and the skills of a worker—is something that can be dealt with more aggressively through Career and Technical Education. 

“Businesses want to invest more, they want to make better products, but they can’t do so if they can’t find the right people. By the way, when those skilled workers aren’t available, often those jobs go somewhere else. So in the case of Ohio, some may go to other states, let’s say, Indiana, but some go to other countries, let’s say India. If you don’t have the skilled workforce, you’re not going to be able to keep the jobs that we want here in America because workers are such a critical part of making a business successful. The Bureau of Labor Statistics at the Department of Labor says that the typical unemployed worker today has been unemployed for about six months. So we have this long-term unemployment – again, the skills gap would help to deal with that. More than 5.8 million Americans are now stuck in part-time work who would like full-time work. So we’ve got some challenges in our economy and the skills training would really help. 

“According to a survey from Deloitte, 98 of the 100 biggest privately-held employers in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio—98 out of 100—say they are struggling to find qualified workers. There’s a shortage of machinists, machine operators in our manufacturing state. There’s also a shortage of other jobs, IT skills, health care skills. Companies want to hire but they’re having a hard time finding workers with those right skills. By the way, it’s not just again in Cincinnati or in Ohio. It’s across the country. There’s a study done by the National Association of Manufacturers that found that three out of every four manufacturers say the skills gap is hurting their ability to expand and create more jobs. Three out of four. So as this new Congress and new administration get to work, I think there’s an opportunity for us to address this. 

“One thing we’ve heard about from the administration and also from both sides of the aisle here is the need for more infrastructure—funding for repairing our crumbling roads and bridges, our water systems, our wastewater systems—I think that’s all true. But, by the way, it’s going to be tough to do it unless we have the skilled workers to rebuild that infrastructure. So I think it’s an area of common ground where if we have skilled workers, it’s much more likely we’ll be able to modernize that infrastructure. We had a conference on this issue a couple of weeks ago here in the Congress. We brought some people in from Ohio from the building trades, and the point they made was: we’d love to see this infrastructure expansion everybody is talking about, but who’s going to do the work? We need more skills training to be sure that’s there. 

“Yesterday afternoon we confirmed the Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. And one reason I voted for Betsy DeVos is that she talked about skills training. Her quote was that CTE, Career and Technical Education, is an ‘important priority,’ agreeing that we have to do more to give our young people the job skills they need. Some people when they hear about CTE wonder what it is. It’s for some in my generation what was called at one time vocational education. But I will tell you it’s not your father’s oldsmobile. It’s really impressive to go to these CTE schools and see what they’re doing and see the change in attitudes by the kids and their parents once they get into these programs. One of the challenges we have is getting kids to enroll in some of these CTE programs. Sometimes the parents say ‘that’s not something you should do. We want you to get on track with kids going to college because that’s the track we were on, that’s the track we were told is better. We don’t want you to go to vocational school.’ I will tell you that’s a big mistake. And changing that attitude is really important to helping expand CTE because these young people who go into the CTE programs have an incredible opportunity. By the way, many of them do go on to college, two-year and four-year institutions but many of them also get a job out of high school and again that job is really important to our employers to keeping jobs and economic activity going here in this country but it’s also a huge opportunity for them. 

“I was at a CTE center a couple of years ago and we were sitting around the table talking to some of the employers who were there supporting the program, some of the administrators and of course most importantly some of the students who were from three local high schools who were all involved in the CTE program. And of the three young people who were there, two of them were going off to manufacturing jobs where they were going to be making 50 grand a year plus benefits and the third was going into an IT position where, again, she was going to have a great opportunity. My question to the students was, have you gone back to your high school and talked to your friends about this? And they all indicated that they were planning to do that because they’d had a great experience and they were going to have these great opportunities. One of them, by the way, was interested in being an engineer so he was going into CTE, then going and getting a job. He already had a job lined up with a company that he had interned for, but that same company was willing to send him to school to get a degree in engineering over the subsequent years. All three of them had college credits already because in Ohio you’re allowed to get college credit while you’re in these CTE courses, which makes it much more likely that kids stay in school in the first place in high school and graduate but also more likely that they will go to college and be able to get through college and have college be more affordable by getting some credits in advance. It’s a terrific idea. 

“There’s a story that I heard about recently of a young woman in Ohio. Her name is MacKenzie Slickers, she’s from Massillon, Ohio. And MacKenzie, as she will tell you, wasn’t doing very well in school. She was not sort of hitting her marks and she wasn’t real excited about school. And then one day she saw that there was an opportunity to get into a CTE course in sports medicine. She applied for it. The teacher looked at her scores in her other classes, non-CTE classes, and said, you know, ‘I’ll take a chance on you but I’m really concerned about you because your grades are so low.’ But she applied. She said she was embarrassed by those scores. The teacher let her in with an understanding she would do a better job in her other classes, and by the way, the CTE course gave her a totally newfound motivation to work hard and to get good grades. And again, I hear this again and again back home. These kids who are in CTE are excited. They not only stay in school; they graduate—they aren’t dropouts—but they do better. In her senior year at Washington High School she had a 4.0 GPA after getting into the CTE program in sports medicine. A 4.0. And by the way she’s now studying at Miami University where she’s on track to living out her dream of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. She’s pre-med. So, it’s an example of where CTE really works.

“Senator Tim Kaine and I had this in mind when we started the Senate CTE caucus. And it’s a caucus that started off with just a couple members. Now it has a strong following. And Tammy Baldwin is among the leaders of that caucus who is here with us today on the floor from Wisconsin. But this caucus has not only had these conferences—as I talked about, the week before last—and brought people together to talk about issues, but we’ve also put together legislation. Senator Kaine and I introduced legislation called Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students Act, or the JOBS Act. How about that for an acronym? We tried hard to get that acronym, JOBS. We introduced it a couple of weeks ago. It would let young people from low-income families use Pell Grants for job training programs. Under the current law, Pell Grants can be used for financial aid for courses that last for 15 weeks or more. But a lot of the licensing programs and the job training programs out there are less than 15 weeks. In Ohio a lot of them are nine weeks and they can’t get access to Pell Grants. So we think this legislation will be very helpful, giving young people options that they don’t have now to be able to have this funding, to be able to apply for these shorter courses, give them opportunities for a better start in their careers, get them the licensing they need, the certificates they need and putting them on the path to joining the middle class, to be able to get a job, but also be able to buy that car, be able to buy that home over time by having this opportunity to get these skills training. 

“So, our legislation, by the way, has been endorsed now by the Association of Career and Technical Education, National Skills Coalition, National Council for Education and many other groups. We appreciate their help. We want to get that legislation done. I hope colleagues on both sides of the aisle can join us to get that legislation enacted. It makes so much sense. 

“Senator Kaine and I are also planning to reintroduce another bill called Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, that improves the quality of our CTE programs by setting minimum standards for CTE programs that would ensure that students are able to transfer their credits, be able to have their work graded based on today’s industry standards and use equipment that’s up to date. So basically it’s legislation—and again I thank Senator Baldwin for her support—that helps to increase the quality of CTE education. And in some of our states this is working incredibly well. Ohio is one of those cutting edge states. We got to be sure the standards are maintained and expanded everywhere and that we continue through a Perkins reauthorization to support strongly our CTE programs. 

“Just like the JOBS bill, this one has been endorsed by a number of education experts and groups. We appreciate their help, including the National Career Academy Coalition, the National Career Development Association, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and many more. In Ohio we’ve got some great schools. Whether it’s Cleveland, Ohio, where Max Hayes High School does an awesome job. I was there for its opening, now about a year and a half ago. They’re doing a terrific job working with the building trades, working with private industry, working with the high schools in the area, and developing skills that are badly needed in Northeast Ohio. Ohio’s also got some great health care CTE programs. I mentioned the young woman who found her motivation through getting involved in CTE for sports medicine. Recently I went to Butler Tech and to their health care campus which is north of Cincinnati. Amazing what they’re doing there. You walk in and all the kids have white coats on, medical coats and whether it’s dental hygienists who are being trained there or whether its technologists or whether it’s students who intend to go to medical school some day or nurses—those who are interested in getting a degree in nursing—there’s incredible excitement. And they have brought in, again, outside partners. All the health care systems in the area are involved with them and working with them. So this is good for these kids but it’s also really good for our community. 

“Mr. President, if we pass this legislation I’ve talked about today, if we continue to focus on Career and Technical Education as we’re supposed to do this month, the CTE month of February, we’re going to help many, many millions of our young people to be able to have better opportunities. And as importantly, we’re going to be able to help our economy. We’re going to be able to help create more jobs, more opportunities here in this country to be able to close that skills gap, to put people to work. It just makes too much sense for us not to come together as Republicans and Democrats alike and with the new administration to promote Career and Technical Education. With that, Mr. President, I yield back my time.”

Portman has visited with teachers and students across Ohio who involved in Career and Technical Education.

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