Building workforce for Tennessee’s future

Toyota vehicles are built to last, and we expect the same of our workforce, which is why training and retraining our employees is a critical part of our success. But building the workforce of the future isn’t something we can do alone, and that’s a message I want to make sure our political leaders understand.

As general manager of Toyota Bodine Aluminum here in Jackson, I know a company’s workforce is the backbone of its success. More than half our employees are Skilled Team Members who build and repair the advanced tooling and equipment that we use to produce top-quality engine blocks. Each year, we sponsor a group of students to attend Jackson State Community College where they split their time working and studying to achieve an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree in Industrial Technology.

Still, I’ve been struggling to find qualified candidates to fill vacancies at our facility, despite knowing there are Tennesseans out there who want to work or embark on a better career. I’m not alone in this struggle. The National Association of Manufacturers found that over the next 10 years, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be needed but almost 60 percent will go unfilled because of the “skills gap.”

The skills gap, which is the difference between the skills employers need and the skills of applicants who want to fill jobs, isn’t limited to the manufacturing sector. Businesses and farms of all sizes and across industries are concerned about finding skilled labor.

Fortunately, Congress has heard the voices of businesses and communities and moved to update the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (also called the Perkins CTE Act). This law was first passed in 1984 and is named for a long-serving former U.S. Representative from Kentucky, who just happens to share the same name as Jackson’s legendary Carl Perkins. Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed reauthorization of the law with support from both Republicans and Democrats. Now it’s the Senate’s turn, with Tennessee’s own Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), who serves as the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, working to pass corresponding legislation to modernize the Perkins CTE Act.

The Perkins CTE Act enjoys broad bipartisan support — a rarity in Washington these days — because Congress understands how important it is to promote the development of the U.S. workforce. We already have one of the most productive workforces in the world, and by improving the Perkins CTE program, we can become ever better.

At Toyota Bodine, over 150 of our approximately 300 team members have benefited from the funding provided by the Perkins CTE program for their technical education and training at local schools, such as Jackson State Community College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology.

The House-passed version of the Perkins CTE Act would bring much needed modernization to career and technical education. Primarily, it would align CTE programs to the needs of regional, state and local labor markets. One size never fits all, and this bill ensures U.S. businesses and communities can create programs and opportunities that teach the skills they want in their workforce.

The House bill also takes steps toward facilitating meaningful collaboration between secondary and post-secondary institutions and employers, and seeks to increase student participation in work-based learning opportunities. These provisions will ensure the skills students learn are the ones they actually need. Lastly, the bill promotes the use of industry credentials and other recognized credentials, encouraging students to develop their skills at higher levels.

Businesses large and small know Perkins CTE can make a difference in building their workforces, which in turn, will support the continued economic growth and prosperity of the United States. For employers and workers in Tennessee and across the country, we need Congress to put its education efforts into overdrive.

Shawn Daly is the general manager of Toyota Bodine Aluminum in Jackson.

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