To help members address their workforce development challenges, NRCA has been working with lawmakers in Congress to improve federal policy governing career and technical education (CTE). In June, significant progress was made when new legislation to reform CTE programs was introduced in the House of Representatives.
NRCA believes more effective CTE programs (also known as vocational education) are vital to the roofing industry's long-term prosperity. In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for roofing contractors to find applicants to fill job openings despite vigorous efforts to recruit workers. NRCA expects this problem will become more acute as the construction economy continues to grow. The shortage of qualified workers is caused by a variety of factors, including an aging workforce, educational trends that encourage greater numbers of students to pursue four-year college degrees and the physically demanding nature of roofing work.
NRCA has made it clear to Congress CTE programs must be improved and expanded to help meet the growing need for skilled applicants to fill well-paying roofing industry jobs. Roofing contracting companies provide great opportunities for those seeking fulfilling careers if they have the proper skills and work ethic.
In early 2015, Congress began developing legislation to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, a law that authorizes an array of programs involving the development of career and technical skills among graduates of secondary and postsecondary institutions. Programs operating under the Perkins act currently are funded at just more than $1 billion per year by the federal government. Policies governing these programs have not been updated by Congress since 2006, and the programs' effectiveness in meeting employers' needs clearly is in question.
As Congress geared up to reauthorize the Perkins act in 2015, NRCA began working with lawmakers to develop policies designed to improve and expand CTE opportunities that meet the roofing industry's challenging workforce development needs. The goal is to provide new opportunities for employers to collaborate with educators at state and local levels to develop CTE programs designed to achieve employers' workforce objectives.
NRCA and allied groups developed a series of recommendations for improving Perkins act programs in ways that enable secondary and postsecondary graduates to access CTE programs and gain the skills needed to succeed in the roofing industry. A reauthorized Perkins act should strengthen the role of employers and provide maximum flexibility in the design of CTE programs to ensure they effectively meet constantly changing economic demands.
In particular, there is a need for expanded employer-sponsored internships and on-the-job training in CTE programs, as well as new "sector partnerships" among employers and educational institutions. Finally, new legislation should provide more incentives for the development of industry-recognized credentials, which NRCA views as a key component of encouraging greater interest in roofing industry careers.
The new bill
After more than a year of debate and discussions with various stakeholders about how to most effectively reform CTE programs, several lawmakers introduced the "Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act" (H.R. 5587) in June. The legislation seeks to reform and expand Perkins act programs and largely adopts NRCA's policy recommendations. The bill will ensure CTE programs provide enhanced incentives for work-based learning opportunities, new incentives for the development of industry-recognized credentials and other reforms to better align programs with the roofing industry's workforce needs.
NRCA commends Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Bradley Byrne (R-Alaska) for their leadership in developing and introducing this important legislation.
In July, H.R. 5587 unanimously was approved by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. During the committee session to consider amendments to the bill, Thompson said the legislation is a "landmark step towards closing our nation's skills gap and empowering students pursuing careers in vital technical fields." Given the exceptional level of bipartisan support, the legislation has a chance of being enacted into law before the end of this year.
NRCA recognizes the importance of workforce development to the industry and will continue working with key lawmakers to get the legislation passed.
Duane L. Musser is NRCA's vice president of government relations.