Perkins Legislation Critical to Ensuring a Robust A&D Workforce

The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353) overwhelmingly passed out of the House Education and Workforce Committee on May 17. Commonly referred to as “Perkins” – as it reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act – the bill is a major step forward in bringing common sense and smart accountability reforms to the education and workforce pipeline. Perkins is the main law responsible for aligning career and technical education (CTE) with in-demand jobs. The aerospace and defense industry has long supported Perkins while aggressively and successfully implementing their own programs to inspire our next generation innovators.

A highly skilled and robust defense and aerospace workforce is essential to our nation’s security and economic prosperity. Yet today the industry faces impending retirements and a shortage of trained technical graduates while work and skills requirements become increasingly advanced – a challenging situation forecast to worsen in the next decade. Perkins has traditionally sat at the critical juncture between national, state and local education and workforce development systems; while industries with the need for a technical workforce have been relegated to the step-child role looking in from the outside. The result is the development of two parallel tracks – one federal and the other industry. H.R. 2353 addresses this disconnect between industry and federal investments in the CTE system by acknowledging that there is an appropriate balance between the educational needs of the students and the talent pipeline needs of employers.

AIA was proud to join The Opportunity America Jobs and Careers Coalition in sending a letter to the bill’s sponsors, Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Penn) and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill), commending them for their bipartisan introduction of the bill, which takes a giant leap in modernizing Perkins. That modernization includes addressing the critical role of the employer and bringing them to the table by:

  • Improving alignment of career education with in-demand jobs by requiring more robust consultation with business and industry, including industry and sector partnerships.
  • Encouraging strong engagement with employers in setting state performance goals and assessing skills in demand at the local level.
  • Incentivizing programs that incorporate work-based learning and dual enrollment in postsecondary education and training.
  • Incentivizing programs that prepare students for high-skill, high-wage, in-demand occupations.
  • Expanding state reserve funds and directing that they be used to foster innovation or support programs that prepare students for in-demand industries and occupations.
  • Creating small state-run competitive grant programs to foster bottom-up innovation and better align career education with labor market needs, including potentially working with industry and expanding opportunities for work-base learning.

The need for cross-system collaboration between communities – private industry with federal government – is more important than ever before. If the United States is to remain a leader, a robust STEM workforce is crucial to ensuring a strong industrial base that supports U.S. global competitiveness, innovation, economic strength and national security. H.R. 2353 brings the CTE system into the 21st Century and we urge the House to take floor action quickly.

The aerospace and defense industry contributes the largest positive trade balance of any U.S. industry – $90 billion in 2016 – and supports more than 1.7 million jobs in the United States, including 13 percent of our nation’s manufacturing workforce. We have great potential to create more jobs, particularly with a robust pipeline of talent coming into our ranks, fueling innovation and creativity.