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America Must Ready Learners for Demands of 21st Century Workforce With Skills-Based Education

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Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson repre- sents Pennsylvania’s 15th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is in his fifth term and serves in the House Education and Labor Committee, House Agriculture Committee and is the ranking member on the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management subcommittee.

There is no cookie-cutter learner. The men and women who participate in the American education system are as diverse as the makeup of our country.

Due to varying needs, circumstances and intentions, one-size-fits-all programs do not work for many, especially non- traditional learners. Moving into the future, we must recognize these factors and ensure that education remains flexible for all Americans.

In Congress, I’m proud to serve as co- chair of the bipartisan House Career and Technical Education Caucus, a group of legislators who believe that proper skills- based education can lead to well-paying, family-sustaining jobs while simultaneously closing our nation’s skills gap.

There are more than 7.1 million jobs open across the country. Many industries and employers are having a hard time recruiting the skilled workers needed to fill positions in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines like nursing, energy, information technology and cybersecurity. Many of these positions require more than a high school diploma, but not a four-year college degree. There is an obvious disconnect.

All too often, students are pigeonholed into a traditional four-year-plus college degree program because that’s what they’ve been told to aspire to for so long. We need to defy the misconception that a traditional college experience is the only way to have a successful and rewarding career. That’s why I’ve been proud to champion legislation that supports educational outlets that ready learners of all ages for a 21st century workforce.

To directly address the workforce shortage in cybersecurity, I was proud to co-sponsor H.R. 1592, the Cyber- security Skills Integration Act, with my colleague and fellow Career and Technical Education Caucus co-chair, Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island. This bill will create a pilot program through the Department of Education to award grants to create or expand existing post-secondary CTE (career and tech- nical education) programs into cyber- security competencies.

Learners who commit to a technical education in cybersecurity will play a crucial role in helping the United States defend itself from bad actors who attempt to harm our critical infrastructure.

A successful career begins with a well- rounded view of what the workforce entails. Effective counseling can assist learners in better understanding their educational options and career prospects while preventing students from taking on sizable debt.

That’s why Congressman Langevin and I also worked together to introduce H.R. 5092, the Counseling for Career Choice Act, to better equip high school students with the resources to choose the best career path and eventually enter the workforce. The bill also invests in professional development opportunities for counselors to ensure they stay up to date on workforce trends and post-secondary opportunities.

There has always been a common theme when it comes to workforce development. No matter who we are talking about — high school students, college students, veterans or those who are perhaps re- entering the workforce after quite some time — the pathway to success looks different for everyone, and that’s a good thing.

I envision an education system where learners of any age can enter, obtain the education they need and achieve the greater opportunity that work can provide. It is crucial that we provide quality resources, information and education to restore the rungs on the ladder of opportunity for all individuals.

With effective career development and skills-based education, we can put learners of all ages in the driver’s seat of their own futures.