HOUGHTON - U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek visited Houghton Monday as part of a four-day tour to push for improved access to vocational education.
Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, said many employers in the district have talked to him about not having enough job applicants with the right skills and education.
Many of the job opportunities in Northern Michigan, after a one- or two-year technical education, significantly exceed the salaries for four-year employees, Benishek said. But over the past 20 years, opportunities to learn more in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mechanics) or CTE (career and technical education) fields have declined, especially for students.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Monday at Dollar Bay High School, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek presents the George B. Hartzog Award to Xena Cortez and Carl Kangas, members of the school’s Student Organization of Aquatic Robotics.
"We've lost some of that in our education base, and the kids don't even know that's available to them, that these jobs are there," he said. "Rather than going to a four-year college and get a degree where you can't find a job, maybe get a one- or a two-year degree, or at least check it out and see if you might be interested in something like that."
One issue is loosening U.S. Department of Education requirements to allow more vocational courses in schools' core curriculums, which Benishek is hoping to do through legislation. Benishek is also trying to better coordinate between the local, state and federal levels for funding or training opportunities.
Benishek has added a tab on his website, benishek.house.gov, that directs people to educational resources such as grants.
"If a school district or ISD needs funding and they need access to whatever the grants are, we will be able to help them," he said.
One example is occurring in Escanaba, where machining company VanAire works with local students.
"Their business is doing well, and they have opportunity for kids to come in to see what they do," he said. "We need to have more of that. We're trying to figure out how to do that best."
Benishek said there are increasing local opportunities for workers.
Rare for Washington, there appears to be a bipartisan consensus on the issue of vocational education, Benishek said.
"There's no argument about it, there's funding available," he said. "We're just trying to make it easier for folks to get this done."
While in the Copper Country, Benishek spoke to students at Houghton Middle School, visited Michigan Technological University and presented a national award to the Dollar Bay Student Organization of Aquatic Robotics (SOAR) at Dollar Bay High School. The SOAR project is an example, he said, of the kind of projects he hopes to promote.
The group was awarded the George B. Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Services for an underwater robot used at Isle Royale National Park to search for invasive zebra mussels.