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Consider all options when addressing technical skills gaps

November 29, 2018

The growing demand and consequential labor market shortage for skilled workers is well documented.

A Financial Times article from earlier this year shed light on the nationwide hunt for skilled labor, identifying “new collar” jobs in manufacturing, automation, healthcare and information technology.

Three million workers will be needed for the nation’s infrastructure in the next decade, including designing, building, maintaining and operating transportation, housing, utilities and telecommunications. Moreover, healthcare occupations are projected to grow 18 percent by 2026, adding more than two million new jobs.

Today’s careers are also evolving with technology, requiring workers to acquire additional skills that were inconceivable in the past. For example, automotive technicians now need direct technical skills in their field as well as computer programming knowledge, based on the rise of smart cars and autonomous vehicles.

What this means is that the economy depends on today’s students pursuing career and technical education (CTE) now more than ever. CTE fuels the talent pipeline, helping students gain the technical and employability skills that will lead to their success in high-demand, high-wage and high-skill fields. To ensure students have the opportunity to pursue these careers, it is essential they are aware of and have access to the plethora of postsecondary opportunities.

Many students successfully pursue CTE at public community and technical colleges, where graduates can earn more than individuals who receive bachelor degrees. Other options can include shorter term training programs, area CTE centers, four-year institutions and more. One continuing education option students are not always aware of is through the U.S. Army and other military branches.

Sgt. Tyler Horras worked in construction for 10 years before seeking out a new challenge with the U.S. Army. A recruiter offered him a rare opportunity that he couldn’t turn down. Horras underwent a rigorous healthcare training program in the Army that provided him with valuable skills for his current career as a radiologic technologist.

Horras feels the skills and leadership training he has received from the Army will give him an advantage when he transitions to a civilian career later in life. His journey to acquire these relevant, real-world tech skills will translate well into the needs of today’s workforce.

He learned the Army offers a diverse cross-section of career opportunities through more than 150 Military Occupational Specialties, and that it invests in its recruits by empowering and teaching them leadership skills. Indeed, comprehensive and robust technical training takes place within the Army. As Horras quickly found after enlisting, opportunities abound for skills development and career success.

The Army can also be a cost-effective postsecondary option, as students can receive scholarships for two, three or four years as part of the Army ROTC program while pursuing a degree in a skilled career field. Combat support and combat-service support training can span fields like medicine, law, cybersecurity, information technology, construction and more. The training that cadets receive can translate later into high-paying, in-demand careers in the civilian workforce.

America needs a skilled workforce to maintain its competitive edge. Fortunately, CTE is doing its part to support the nation’s economy in the face of workforce shortages by helping up-skill and re-skill workers for in-demand careers. There are many components to the nation’s CTE system, and students and parents alike would be well advised to explore the many options available.

To learn more about CTE, visit acteonline.org. Interested CTE educators and students can also visit goarmy.com for more information about CTE and career paths in the Army.

LeAnn Wilson is the executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), which represents tens of thousands of education professionals and is the nation’s largest not-for-profit association committed to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for successful careers.

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