Stabenow pushes grants for more career counselors

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is pushing legislation that would expose young people to options for training, apprenticeships and technical education to fill high-paying jobs in manufacturing, technology and other growing sectors.

One of her bipartisan workforce bills would provide federal grants for schools to be able to hire more career counselors.

Michigan is the third worst state in student-to-counselor ratio with 729 students to one counselor. The ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association is 250 students to a counselor.

Funding would also be available for local schools to design comprehensive counseling plans for students starting in the sixth grade, said Stabenow, a Lansing Democrat.

“Students need to be exposed early to the fact that they have choices. By time they’re freshman in high school, they might have already decided there’s no path for them or no hope, or that their only choice is college — and they may not be able to afford that,” shew said.

“And so they drop out or stop trying. People need to know there’s other options.”

Those may include trade apprenticeships, community college, certificate programs or other technical education.

Stabenow is introducing the Careers Act with U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican. States could apply for grants from the Department of Education on behalf of local communities, and the states receiving funding would provide a 20-percent match.

“As the son of two school teachers, Senator Perdue believes it’s critical students are aware of all the career options available to them, including vocational and technical job opportunities,” Perdue spokeswoman Lesley Fulop said in a statement.

“Equipping school districts with additional career counselors will help provide students with the support they need to make informed decisions about their futures.”

Stabenow, who is running for her fourth term this year, said her package of workforce legislation is based in part on feedback from parents, educators and students, as well as business and labor leaders she heard from during a series of seven roundtables around Michigan last summer.

She is reintroducing her New Skills For New Jobs Act to expand a state program where community colleges partner with local businesses to provide training to workers they want to for specific, high-skilled jobs.

Michigan’s program has established 174 local partnerships to train nearly 20,000 workers for high-skill jobs, but its funding is capped at $50 million, despite a waiting list of hopeful participants, Stabenow said.

Her bill would federal match for every state dollar to increase the number of workers and businesses participating and expand to states where the program is in effect, she said.

Stabenow noted a study by the National Association of Manufacturers and Deloitte estimating that nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will become available over the next decade but nearly 2 million could remain unfilled due to expected retirements and economic expansion.

Stabenow said small businesses tell her all the time that their greatest challenge is finding the skilled workers they need. “It is a uniform need and it’s universal,” she said.

She is promoting privately funded training centers that trade unions operate around Michigan at no cost to the student and which often lead to hires in fields like carpentry, plumbing, bricklaying, roofing, iron working or pipe-fitting.

Her Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act would provide businesses with a tax cut up to $5,000 for each new employee enrolled in a federal or state-registered apprenticeship program.

The bill also aims to get veterans into skilled jobs that match their military experience by allowing for apprenticeship program credit for previous military training.

Stabenow also wants to expand the ways that Pell grants can be used, allowing them to cover shorter-term certificate or job-training programs “to get workers trained as soon as possible,” she said.

Under current law, students may only use Pell grants for programs that are over 600 clock hours or at least 15 weeks long.