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  ·   By Mike Kenig, Medium   ·  Link to Article

Reauthorizing the Higher Education and Perkins Acts to grow Georgia’s workforce

He may have been best known for “The Apprentice” before being elected president, but Donald Trump shouldn’t forget the principles of his hit show. If he wants to build our economy, President Trump should invest in apprenticeships and training, as many students are finding their time better spent learning a trade that will teach them skills in a chosen career. This is good for our workforce economy, and can be even better if more young people are given an open path to access Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE).

Businesses in Georgia are offering well-paying jobs with opportunities to move up the ladder, but these positions need trained or credentialed workers with the right skills. “Middle-skill” jobs that require more than a high school degree but less than a bachelor’s degree are an important part of our state and national economy. According to a National Skills Coalition analysis, just over half of all job openings between 2014 and 2024 will be for middle-skill jobs; in Georgia these jobs account for 55 percent of the labor market while only 43 percent of the state’s workers are trained for them.

Community and technical colleges play a critical role in this equation. Many businesses are working with community colleges to design curricula that give working students access to CTAE programs that provide training to move into these middle-skill jobs that businesses like mine are hiring for. But we need to start identifying potential students who are interested in careers like construction, manufacturing, and health care even before they leave high school.

Right now, the average age of young adults entering technical-college programs is 26, and the age of those entering the trades is 28 — about 10 years after they graduate from high school. To lower this age, we must work together to eliminate this “lost decade” by making clear to students earlier in their education the various pathways to success in the industry.

Further, we must be doing more to make it easier for students interested in construction to get on a career track earlier in their lives. In Georgia, we have passed legislation that enhances students’ ability to “dual enroll” in high school and college, including technical colleges. That plan allows a student to use post-secondary classes to earn high school credit.

Many education and training programs that could propel people into middle skill jobs do not meet federal requirements for financial aid or Pell grants — either because the programs are short term, or because they don’t award academic credit. This is a real setback for aspiring low-income students who likely need financial aid as they pursue career-advancing skills in manufacturing, health care, or other high demand middle-skill occupations. It is also a real hindrance for businesses in Georgia who are looking for workers with these very skills but lack big training budgets.

There are many more people who would like to advance up the career ladder with adequate training for middle-skill occupations, and there is a real demand for it in Georgia. Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and Perkins Acts to increase financial support for community colleges with CTE programs for working students is the first step to build more opportunities. We should extend Pell Grants to people who want to complete short term occupational training programs. Since not all jobs require four year degrees, it makes economic sense to extend Pell grants to people in pursuit of a license, certificate, or industry-recognized certification in order to improve their employment prospects and move up in the labor market or earn more money.

Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and Perkins Act and extending Pell to these career-oriented students during this next administration is one way to grow Georgia’s workforce and build the economy so that every American has a decent shot at breaking into the middle class.

Mike Kenig is the vice chairman at Holder Construction Company in Atlanta.

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