I try to dedicate as much time as I can to traveling throughout the 1st Congressional District and seeing the exciting programs and opportunities underway, especially relating to workforce development. Based on recent stops in our district, I’m encouraged to see that efforts to equip our workers with modern-day skills are moving in a positive direction.

The old model of students graduating from high school and getting a traditional, four-year degree is not as beneficial to our students or our economy as it once might have been. While this type of education is certainly useful in many areas, in other situations it leaves young people with piles of student loan debt and few job prospects.

Skills-based work and education programs are especially important for today’s workforce. I recently had the opportunity to tour and learn more about programs like these in McCracken County. After visiting the construction site of the Paducah Innovation Hub – a facility being built for the next school year to house technical center classes like carpentry, welding and automotive technology – I am more confident than ever that local leadership is dedicated to preparing students for the 21st century economy. This project of the Paducah Independent School District is the future of education and will serve as a stable talent pipeline for area employers.

Leaders in towns across my 35-county congressional district are working diligently to prepare our students to succeed. Area Technology Centers and other vocational education institutions are providing high school students with access to specialized curriculum in high-demand work sectors. I wholeheartedly support these efforts as a way of helping the next generation succeed as well as helping employers fill positions of great need.

Officials at the McCracken County Jail were also kind enough to show me the vocational programs offered at the jail, an innovative approach to reducing skyrocketing incarceration rates. Jailer David Knight – the leader of this initiative – has made it a priority to get inmates back on their feet with workforce training programs in the areas of welding, HVAC services and more.

Given the current strength of our economy, there is a great need for workers to fill skilled positions in the 1st District. Vocational opportunities like those at the McCracken County Jail are not only critical to solving workforce shortages, but will also help reduce the constant flow of inmates in and out of jails, saving taxpayer dollars while providing the chance for individuals to realize their full potential. I’m extremely proud of all the jails in the 1st District who are advancing programs to help inmates transition into becoming productive members of society.

I recently spoke on this topic on the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, highlighting that efforts to train people for the 21st century economy in the 1st District can serve as a great model for educating all Americans. As a prominent Republican member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, promoting skills-based educational opportunities is a major component of my work.

Another important step we can take in encouraging our citizens to join the workforce is reforming our nation’s welfare programs. As President Trump noted in his State of the Union address, it is great news when Americans are financially able to come off welfare programs, find employment and recognize the dignity of work and the ability to support their families. In multiple committee meetings recently, I spoke about the importance of ending the cycle of poverty and encouraging able-bodied, working age individuals to move towards a future of financial independence.

Teaching practical job skills should be the focus of our education system moving forward, especially as it relates to funding new education programs and facilities. I am a strong advocate for a more well-rounded, skills-based education system, as so many of our local school systems are offering. But we must do more to improve workforce participation rates in Kentucky and the United States, and I believe what we are seeing in my congressional district can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

Rep. James Comer is a United States Congressman for the 1st Congressional District, which spans from south central Kentucky to the river counties of far western Kentucky. Contact him with any questions or concerns in his Washington D.C. office at (202) 225-3115, in the Tompkinsville Office at (270) 487-9509, in the Paducah Office at (270) 408-1865, or schedule an appointment in the Madisonville Office by calling (270) 487-9509.