While the government and private sectors continue to focus on job creation as a critical component of economic recovery, a skills gap has left 3 million jobs vacant in the U.S. today. In an effort to ensure the education system provides high-quality job-training opportunities that reduce skill shortages, encourage new hires, and spark innovation and economic growth, the U.S. Department of Education
(DOE) recently released Investing in America's Future: A Blueprint to Transform Career and Technical Education
. The Blueprint calls for a strengthening of the nation's career and technical education (CTE) programs, and highlights the need for credentials and certificates accredited by a neutral third-party such as the American National Standards Institute
(ANSI) to assure their quality and value to students and employers alike. The Blueprint reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006
and offers proposed reforms to the Perkins program in four key areas:
- Alignment: Ensuring that the skills taught in career and technical education (CTE) programs reflect the actual needs of the labor market, particularly for in-demand occupations within high-growth industry sectors.
- Collaboration: Incentivizing secondary schools, institutions of higher education, employers, and industry partners to work together to ensure that CTE programs offer high-quality learning opportunities.
- Accountability: Requiring CTE programs to show, through common definitions and related performance measures, that they are improving academic outcomes and enabling students to build usable skills.
- Innovation: Promoting systemic reform of state-level policies to support effective CTE implementation and innovation at the local level.
According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, "Our federal investment in CTE must be dramatically reshaped to fulfill its potential to prepare all students, regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances, for further education and cutting-edge careers." He explained, "The goal of CTE should be that students earn an industry certification and postsecondary certificate or degree — and land a job that leads to a successful career." Accreditation of quality credentialing programs by a neutral third party such as ANSI is one key tool in assuring that CTE programs are effective and of value. Through its Accreditation Program for Personnel Certification Bodies
and Certificate Accreditation Program
(ANSI-CAP), ANSI ensures that education and training programs meets International and American National Standards for quality. The ANSI accreditation process is designed to increase the integrity, confidence, and mobility of certified professionals and certificate programs, and provide a visible mark of that quality. According to Roy Swift, Ph.D., senior director for ANSI's personnel credentialing accreditation programs, only 10 percent of approximately 4,000 personnel certifications are accredited, which has led to a "buyer beware" environment and a disconnect between industry and the labor market. Third-party review, Dr. Swift contended, helps to ensure that a credential has market value, is recognized by industry, and prevents buying a "credential to nowhere." At the March 2012 ANSI Joint Member Forum, Keith Bird, Ph.D., senior policy fellow for workforce and postsecondary education at the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, said that a stronger commitment to industry-recognized credentials and a system of common standards that supports them is critical to strengthening the American labor market. A competency-based credentialing system can reduce employer search and transaction costs, increase job security and portability, and help ensure competitive, quality jobs. [see related news item
] The DOE's reauthorization of a modified Perkins Act intended to strengthen CTE programs nationwide highlights the critical need for concrete, effective solutions to diminish the employment divide. Quality, standards-based credentials are one tool that offer promise in helping create a workforce that works, and an American economy built to last.