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Career Education Needs New Supports, Skill Focus, National Report Says

The skills needed for technical careers have changed significantly, and school and adult education programs need to do more to support evolving technical education, according to a mammoth new report on career education by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 

The group hopes to inform the debate over the future of career education; the report comes as the House education committee members unanimously voted to approve a new federal career education bill. As my colleague Andrew Ujifusa reports over at Politics K-12, the bipartisan Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act is intended to give states more flexibility to target career-education grants to their local labor needs. It now moves to the full House.

"If our nation does not adequately develop and sustain its skilled technical workforce, the consequences will be seen in lower productivity, fewer job opportunities, and a lower standard of living for Americans," said Jeff Bingaman, the chair of the National Academies committee that wrote the report and a former U.S. senator from New Mexico, in a statement. 

Skilled technical careers involve high levels of knowledge in a particular field—most often in areas like maintenance, health care, construction, and production—but not necessarily a four-year degree. The report found the demand for manual skills in the workforce has been declining since the 1960s, while the demand for more advanced cognitive and interpersonal skills has risen sharply, as the chart below shows.

Skilled technical careers.JPG

"When industries and occupations are changing, it is particularly challenging for students and job seekers to identify viable career options and the associated education and training requirements,"the report states, noting that schools need better counseling supports and rigorous programs "to counter the common perception that the only path to lifelong occupational success is through immediate entry into four-year college and advanced degree programs."

The report calls for policymakers and educators, among other things, to improve counseling for students' career options and to build more substantive models of career apprenticeships to help students develop on-the-job training in new fields. 

Industry and education experts are meeting to discuss the report Thursday. You can see the full House committee discussion below:

Chart: Based on a 2013 analysis, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found dramatic shifts in the skills required for technical careers in the United States. Source: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


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