Reinvigorated, modernized career and technical education system will connect students with in-demand jobs

“I am the American dream.” Those are the words Paul Tse used to describe the education experience that set him on the pathway to success, as he testified during a congressional hearing exploring ways to strengthen career and technical education programs.

Tse testified that he had struggled in high school and when his friends began college planning, he felt left behind. Tse expressed a sense of helplessness, until he explored a career path in the skilled trades, which led to enrollment in a career and technical education (CTE) program his senior year. Fast forward to graduation, this once struggling student graduated on time, and was met with two job offers from local businesses.

Today, Tse has a fulfilling career as a project manager for a mechanical contractor, and he credits CTE with helping him seize the opportunity. Tse’s story is just one example of how CTE has empowered countless students to pursue pathways to success.

Since the mid-1980s, the federal government has assisted local school districts with the support they need to develop robust CTE programs. These programs combine rigorous academics with real-life experience and hands-on skills that are needed for careers in a broad range of fields such as health care, construction, engineering and technology.

As co-chairmen of the bipartisan Career and Technical Education Caucus in Congress, we have witnessed firsthand the powerful impact CTE programs have had upon the lives of young learners from all walks of life. Too often good-paying, family-sustaining positions are going unfilled, while people still struggle to find jobs. We believe the skills gap can be narrowed by modernizing education to be more representative of the needs of high-skilled, in-demand jobs and the competencies required to be a part of the 21st-century workforce.

For these reasons, we have introduced the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The legislation provides state and local leaders more flexibility to align their CTE programs with the needs of their communities, while also bringing local employers and stakeholders to the table when developing programs. This will increase transparency and accountability; ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent in the most effective manner, in order to maximize outcomes for students and allow the states — the true laboratories of innovation — to share best practices. The bill also provides resources for professional school counselors, who play a critical role in providing students with information on education, training and career opportunities that await them after graduation.

As college costs continue to rise and many young people remain at a loss on what to do upon graduation, CTE programs can and will serve as a viable path forward. Everyone wants to be successful; we must arm them with the tools and knowledge necessary to achieve success.

These are commonsense reforms that have gained widespread support from states, industries, trade groups and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. In a contentious political climate the overwhelming support received for this legislation speaks volumes to the national significance and our collective goal of making America’s workforce prosperous.

The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act will help these and many other individuals acquire the tools they need to seize opportunities like Tse did and to write success stories of their own. As Tse said, that is the American dream, and with this legislation, we hope to empower many more Americans.

U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, and Jim Langevin, D-R.I., are co-chairmen of the Career and Technical Education Caucus.