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The Workforce Skills Challenge

By Stephen DeWitt

July 24, 2019

If you are like many business and industry leaders, you are struggling to secure the talent required to move your company forward. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) report The Global Skills Shortage, 7 million jobs were open in December 2018, but only 6.3 million unemployed people were looking for work ( While the number of individuals entering the workforce is a mostly static issue, couple that statistic with the skills needed by employers versus what students and graduates possess; the result is a challenge that must be addressed.

Not enough students are proactively considering the breadth of available career options and the commensurate education and credentials that are needed to reach their goals. More education alignment with local economic needs, transparency in the information about careers in sectors not as well known to the general public, and a deliberate focus on helping students prepare for these opportunities would improve this scenario. Quality career and technical education (CTE) programs are in a position to address the issue but need your partnership. There are some great opportunities on the horizon to consider.

The recent passage of the federal Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act provides one opportunity to bring business leaders to the table with educators. The law, known to educators as Perkins V, was reauthorized by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump nearly a year ago. State CTE leaders are currently working on their plans required by the federal government to guide how the law will be implemented at the state and local levels.

Local recipients of Perkins V funds are required to consult with stakeholder groups as they develop their own implementation plans, and states are developing guidelines and support measures to help them meet this objective. If you are an industry with locations and employees throughout a state, make sure that you have reached out to CTE leaders within the state agency responsible for oversight. You can find that information on the website managed by the U.S. Department of Education:

Perhaps more important to your company’s hiring needs, reach out to the local CTE programs in your community if you have not already. The new Perkins law includes a needs assessment process that will drive development of the local Perkins application that local CTE leaders will be submitting to states for approval. Business and industry representatives are specifically named as an important stakeholder, and local CTE programs will be required to reach out to industry leaders to participate in this process. If your industry has never been contacted by a CTE program, make sure they know you exist.

Introduce yourself and determine whether there are ways to work collaboratively to address workforce development you are facing. The new focus of the Perkins V law includes strengthening consideration of the economic drivers in communities and regions where CTE programs reside and designing programs that help educate and prepare students for those opportunities. Collaboration must be meaningful in order to be successful. This means more than an hourlong meeting once per quarter. It might mean providing work-based learning opportunities to students so they can experience the real-world environment of your business, or providing mentors from your company to help guide these students on what it means to be part of your productive workforce.

This is not usually “easy” work, but strong educator-employer connections can be powerful, and there are many leaders who have found local CTE programs to be an outstanding feeder of their workforce pipeline. One example is the International Sign Association (ISA), a national trade organization representing many different manufacturing companies and other leaders who are working in sectors supporting signage and display information. ISA has developed a national campaign that connects their members with educational organizations in their local area and has produced resources to assist them in their conversations to build partnerships.

The Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) has created a primer document, “A Guide to Understanding CTE” (, which helps explain some of the basics regarding CTE, such as the Career Clusters Framework, which organizes workforce sectors into 16 groups, and the terminology used by the educators who teach the programs. A good place to begin a conversation with a local education program is learning to speak each other’s language, and the guide may help with that conversation.

ACTE understands that local business leaders are seeking solutions to their workforce challenges and that CTE can and should be a support for these . We at ACTE held the first Workforce Development Through CTE Summit in December 2018, with more than 30 national trade associations, federal government leaders, and representatives from national foundations. We have developed a set of four scenarios—solutions to help bridge CTE with the business and industry community. Our goal is to ensure that more students consider and enter CTE programs that are helping to drive the American economy.

To find out more about the Workforce Development Through CTE initiative, visit ACTE will be hosting the second summit December 3–4 in Anaheim, Calif., and we would love to have you join us to continue the pursuit of solutions. Finding a way to work together to solve today’s workforce skills challenges is good for students, and it’s good for business!

width=150Stephen DeWitt is deputy executive director of ACTE and has led the organization’s efforts in content development, partnerships, and outreach since 2013.