Congresswoman Susan Brooks’ own personal manufacturing experience may have been limited to three months in a Kendallville caramel factory as a college student, but in her congressional roles, she’s having an impact on the skills debate.
In Kokomo Tuesday to speak to educators, Brooks fielded questions on how federal policy might affect local efforts to bring more young people into manufacturing and logistics jobs.
“For a long time, we said, ‘A four-year degree; that’s what success looks like.’ We realize now we probably screwed up in saying that’s the only pathway to success,” Brooks said.
To a roomful of career center educators and district administrators who have been on the front lines of trying to find skilled workers for unfilled positions, Brooks’ openness to more flexibility for local schools sounded the right note.
Eastern Howard Schools Superintendent Tracy Caddell told Brooks one of the biggest problems facing schools is a lack of ability to send kids off to internships at local factories and businesses.
Kids under 18 aren’t allowed to work on shop floors, “but by the time they’re 18, they’re sometimes in their second semester of high school, and it’s too late,” Caddell said.
Federal workplace regulations are the hindrance in that issue, but Brooks said the U.S. Department of Education’s regulations are also a problem for educators.
“In the [U.S. House] we try to minimize them, but that doesn’t mean it will go any place in the Senate,” she said. “We have to find a middle place.”
Brooks, now in the second year of her first term, serves on a K-12 House education subcommittee, and she’s been working on legislation to promote computer science education, and to allow states more flexibility in how federal workforce development dollars are spent.