It’s Time for Congress to Update the Perkins Act

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Today, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and IBM unveiled a letter signed by more than 200 businesses, associations, and community groups urging the Senate and House of Representatives to modernize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act). First enacted in 1984, the Perkins Act is a federal program that helps states and localities around the country offset career and technical education expenses. It’s not often that such a diverse group speaks with the same voice on an issue. The signatories come from all corners of the country and nearly every walk of life – all rallying around the single goal of ensuring today’s students are career ready.

Since its inception, the Perkins Act has touched an untold number of students around the country, arming them with the tools needed for jobs that require more than a high school degree but less than a traditional four-year college degree. Many companies in the technology sector are especially keen on seeing the Perkins Act modernized. These companies have long relied on the Perkins Act to help provide them with a skilled and work-ready talent pool that drives continued innovation and growth.

The Perkins Act has been reauthorized three times since it was first crafted, often with broad bipartisan support. In fact, when the Act was last reauthorized in 2006, there was only one dissenting vote in the House of Representatives, and none in the Senate. But even with bipartisan support, the Act is not immune to improvements.

It is imperative that Congress update the Perkins Act to reflect changes in labor force demands. Emerging technologies and evolving approaches to competing in the global marketplace require workers with 21st century skills. But the unfortunate reality is that too many students are leaving school and attempting to enter the workforce without adequate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) literacy. Absent a concerted effort by policymakers in Washington, this issue will continue to worsen – impacting both our nation’s students and employers.

Specifically, a modernized Perkins Act should:

  • Align career and technical education programs to the needs of regional, state, and local labor markets;
  • Support effective and meaningful collaboration among secondary and postsecondary institutions and employers; and
  • Increase student participation in experiential learning opportunities such as industry internships, apprenticeships, and mentorships, while promoting the use of industry-recognized credentials.

While modernizing the Perkins Act to better reflect the needs of today’s (and tomorrow’s) labor force is just one piece of a larger job training and education initiative, it will undoubtedly pay rich dividends for our nation’s economy. As we enter the homestretch of the 113th Congress, ITI, IBM and more than 200 additional signatories stand ready to work together to address this critical need.

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