Column: Find your skill set to succeed

Tim Walberg

As a representative, I often have the privilege of speaking with young people and school groups. My career advice is always the same: Find your sweet spot. Find what you’re passionate about, where you can make a difference, and pursue your dreams with every ounce of effort.

For some students, this pursuit will take them to a traditional college or university setting. For others, their path to success will take them on a different route. Yet too often, misperceptions about career pathways outside a four-year degree discourage students from considering widely-available, good-paying jobs in highly skilled fields.

We’re now facing a shortage of workers to compete for jobs in the manufacturing, engineering, and other science and technology-related sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently six million unfilled jobs in the United States, and businesses are anxious to hire workers with the right experience to fill them. Preparing more Americans to qualify for these available jobs will lead to meaningful and financially rewarding careers for individuals and faster economic growth for our nation.

Through my work on the Education and the Workforce Committee, Republicans and Democrats are joining together to help bridge the skills gap by prioritizing skills-focused education. We recently passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, through our Committee and then on the House floor, by a unanimous vote.

The bipartisan bill modernizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which was first passed more than three decades ago to provide federal support to state and local career and technical education programs. Importantly, our bill reduces red tape at the federal level and allows for innovation by providing flexibility to state and local partners to meet the needs of their individual communities.

The bill also includes provisions I’ve championed to address overly burdensome occupational licensing requirements. Many newly trained graduates and aspiring entrepreneurs are held back by a regulatory environment filled with obsolete or burdensome rules that pose unnecessary barriers to entry to the workforce, particularly for low-income workers. Based on bipartisan legislation I’ve introduced with Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, my provisions give states additional tools to streamline licensing rules and promote economic opportunity.

In Michigan, we have a number of community colleges, career centers, and school districts leading the way in career and technical education. Institutions like Monroe County Community College are teaming up with local manufacturers and schools to help students develop hands-on experience, including launching an automotive service technology program this fall.

School and business leaders in Lenawee County saw a need for talent development that matches in-demand jobs, and they opened the Southern Michigan Center for Science and Industry to prepare the future workforce for these opportunities.

The private sector is a key part of solving the skills gap. DTE, for example, tripled its summer jobs program to expose more students to professional trades and knowledge of the modern workplace.

We all have a role to play to tackle this pressing challenge: Parents, educators, employers, and elected officials at every level.

Ultimately, we need to shift our thinking about education, and how we determine achievement in the classroom, to better align with the demands of the 21st century workforce. That means presenting students with a full picture of their educational and career opportunities and encouraging diverse options beyond a four-year degree.

Each young person has a sweet spot, and it’s our job to help them find it—and a lifetime of success.

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, represents Michigan’s 7th district. He is a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee.