Kentucky’s economy is surging forward. After nearly a decade of sluggish growth, Republican leadership in both Washington and Frankfort is helping encourage job creation and economic opportunity.
This is certainly promising news. However, 84% of Kentucky employers also reported last year that they couldn’t find enough qualified workers to fill all the job openings that have been created. One estimate showed there are more than 248,000 annual job openings in Kentucky – many with salaries far above average – in need of skilled workers.
This lack of qualified applicants is called a “skills gap,” and it affects many states throughout the country. The skills gap is particularly wide here in Kentucky, and we must take the next step to equip job seekers with the tools to find those job openings as well as the training and education needed to excel. To continue our current level of economic growth, it’s essential that we support vocational and career-focused development programs.
Partnering with my colleagues in Congress and White House Advisor Ivanka Trump, we passed the reauthorization of the “Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act,” an important bill to help Kentuckians get to work in the economy of today and tomorrow. Named after a long-time Kentucky Congressman, our legislation directs more than $1 billion to states, including Kentucky, to give students and workers the tools they need in the 21st-century job market. President Trump recently signed our bill into law to update our career and technical education programs and continue to send resources to help close the skills gap in Kentucky.
In addition to providing resources for training and development, this reform bill also updates critical provisions of the program for the first time in more than a decade. The new law gives more flexibility to states to design their own career and technical education (CTE) programs. And, by reducing federal bureaucracy associated with the program, it will empower educators in Kentucky to develop efficient and innovative solutions for the challenges facing our workforce.
Many of the schools in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, as well as high schools throughout the state, already have established partnerships with employers looking to hire. The Perkins law can strengthen these CTE programs and help more Kentuckians learn the specialized skills they need to succeed. We’re helping workers gain access to good jobs and new opportunities for their families.
The Trump administration predicts that more than 11 million students across the country will benefit from this updated law, meaning more people can enter the workforce, help provide for their families, and continue to make our nation thrive.
The Perkins law is the latest of many proposals I continue to support to empower Kentuckians as they work hard to reach their potential. For instance, in response to the devastating opioid and substance abuse epidemic – which traps millions in the cycle of addiction – I introduced the “CAREER Act.” My bill would help connect those in recovery with job opportunities and transitional housing, both of which provide the stability that is vital for maintaining long-term recovery and sobriety. As long as this epidemic continues to plague our communities, I will keep engaging with my colleagues to combat addiction in a comprehensive way.
I also proudly help secure funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission and its POWER grants to equip former coal miners with training to help them continue to utilize their highly-technical skills as they transition into new careers. These programs not only help build a competitive workforce, but they also benefit thousands of Kentucky workers looking to support their families and advance in their careers. Tapping into Kentucky’s potential continues to be a priority of mine, and I will continue to advocate for these programs in the Senate.
Our state’s growing economy – helped along by the policies Republicans have advanced both in Frankfort and in Washington – is already bettering the lives of thousands of Kentuckians. With the skills, apprenticeships, and development supported by the Perkins law, more Kentucky workers and families can help their families, our Commonwealth and our nation continue to thrive.
Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, is U.S. Senate Majority Leader