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Construction Groups Ask Congress to Focus on Skilled Worker Shortage

A broad cross section of construction and construction-related business associations are asking leaders in both parties in Washington to make career training a priority this year. In a letter to Congressional leaders, the groups said they’re facing a problem that business, educators, and government must work in concert to address: A skilled labor shortage.

The groups said reauthorizing and updating the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act would offer a chance for lawmakers to work in a bipartisan way and address a serious need. The act expired several years ago.

"Simply put, by making technical education a priority, Congress can help better prepare workers for well-paying careers, ensure that U.S. companies are able to seize new business opportunities, and make the United States more competitive in the global economy," the groups wrote in a letter that was delivered to Capitol Hill last week.

The trade associations pointed to a study sponsored by the Associated Equipment Distributors and conducted at the College of William & Mary. The study found “the equipment technician shortage is costing dealers approximately $2.4 billion per year in lost revenue and economic opportunity and that the average job open rate for technical positions at construction equipment dealerships is more than three times the national average."

That study also said "a lack of hard skills is the top reason technician positions are going unfilled, that high school, community college, and technical school curricula are not aligned with employer needs, and that the skills gap has hindered company growth and increased costs and inefficiencies.”

In their letter, the groups said working to craft legislation “would provide an opportunity to spotlight the skills gap, create incentives to ensure that technical training programs better consider local employer needs, channel additional resources to new sector based workforce strategies that connect employers, schools, and local government, and highlight the fact that short-term, skills and job-oriented training programs can play as significant a role in the education of skilled workers as full-blown college degree programs.”

It is easy to assume serious legislation won’t receive a fair hearing during an especially heated election year. But the folks at Politico wrote last Friday that there are plenty of reasons Perkins reauthorization stands a chance in 2016:

"It’s small enough that legislators could avoid the heated election-year blowups that sink bills. Perkins addresses an attractive policy area — skills training — and hasn’t been updated since 2006. It could even be spun as a jobs bill. But there are also issues that could derail any attempt to rewrite the law, including a potential battle over Perkins’ dated funding formula, which give some states disproportionate resources.”

Sasha Pudelski, assistant director for policy at The Superintendents Association told Politico that the law poses “enormous administrative challenges,” especially to rural school districts, and needs to be “more responsive to the needs of the business community.”

The full letter from these trade associations can be found here.