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The nation’s career technical education (CTE) laws are due for a major update, one that could take place shortly thanks to legislation that passed Congress and was sent to the President’s desk this week.

The House of Representatives gave final passage July 25 toThe Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.” The bill would reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act for the first time in 12 years, but with necessary changes to ensure students have the skills needed in today’s economy.

The legislation would encourage states, schools and local career technical education providers to update education and job training programs to meet the needs of the local economies, ensuring students have the skills needed to remain competitive.

The measure also would increase alignment with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and promote collaboration between stakeholders so that local businesses can communicate their needs to states and educators as strategies and programs are developed.

U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, an electrician by trade, applauded the bill’s passage. “Career and technical training is often overlooked, and it shouldn’t be. I owe my path to technical training – it’s what took me from community college to construction work to Congress,” he said.

Congressional passage comes as the nation faces a serious shortage of skilled labor: For the first time, more job openings are available than there are people looking for work. The shortage is particularly harmful to manufacturing.  According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), approximately 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled between 2015 and 2025 due to a lack of skilled workers.

NJBIA, which supported the bill, has been a partner with New Jersey’s CTE schools to encourage more employers to offer students work-based learning opportunities through the eight-year-old Employer Coalition for Career and Technical Education. Learn more here.