In the midst of record low unemployment, many states are nonetheless struggling with ongoing skills gaps — shortages of workers with the right skills for in-demand jobs.
At the start of 2019, according to the Department of Labor, as many as 7.3 million jobs remained unfilled. These included a substantial number of “middle-skill” jobs requiring some schooling beyond high school but not a four-year degree. They were in fields such as health care, IT, welding and truck driving. The American Trucking Associations, for instance, reported a shortage of 50,000 drivers in 2017.
One reason these gaps exist is underinvestment in career and technical education. Of the more than $139 billion in annual federal student aid spending for higher education, just $19 billion goes to career and tech ed. Students generally can’t use federal Pell Grants to fund short-term, non-college-credit training programs, such as for welding certifications and commercial drivers’ licenses. Federal dollars under programs such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act are typically limited to the lowest-income workers.
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