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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolution

Floor Speech

Date: Feb. 11, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, approximately 80 percent of jobs in today's workforce require some form of postsecondary education or training beyond the high school level. While the number of students pursing postsecondary education is growing, the supply of middle-skilled workers, whose work requires more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree, falls short of industry demand. According to the National Skills Coalition, 53 percent of all jobs in today's labor market are middle skill, but only 43 percent of U.S. workers are trained at this level. Education is failing to meet the needs of critical industries, including manufacturing, construction, energy, health care, information technology, transportation, and business management and administration.

For many people seeking a job, attending a community college is the most affordable and accessible pathway to higher paying employment opportunities. In Virginia, we have 23 community colleges that serve an estimated 400,000 people across the State, providing them opportunities to earn an associate's degree, certifications or licensures in some of the most cutting-edge and in-demand fields in our workforce. The impact of community colleges nationwide is even greater, and our rapidly changing economy demands increased investment in the pathways these institutions provide to keep up with changing skill demands.

Today, I am proud to introduce the Assisting Community Colleges in Educating Skilled Students (ACCESS) to Careers Act with Senator Young. Inspired by the success of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program, this bill provides grants to states and community colleges to scale evidence-based strategies that will help prepare our students with the skills necessary to succeed in our in-demand industry sectors and occupations. These grants can be used to expand dual enrollment, work-based learning opportunities, apprenticeships, and other pathways to best meet the skill needs of students and employers in our evolving workforce. The bill also emphasizes the importance of student services to ensure that students have the support they need to complete their programs.

The bill also allows grants to be used for developing partnerships between community colleges and other private and public sector entities, creating innovative career pathways directly between two-year institutions and employers. In Virginia, we've already started to see the success of these community college partnerships as part of a strategy to address the growing workforce shortages in rural areas and in-demand industries.

When we invest in our community colleges, they become hubs of innovation, finding pathways to train our next generation in the skills our rapidly evolving workforce needs. The ACCESS to Careers Act represents a necessary step to take the evidence-based innovations we've seen on the local level to scale in order to fill jobs in high- needs industries. I strongly encourage my colleagues in the Senate to consider this commonsense, bipartisan legislation as we move towards reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

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