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13 Groups Awarded $4.7 Million for Job-Skills Standards

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WASHINGTON--The federal government last week awarded more than $4.7 million to 13 national trade associations and education groups to develop voluntary national skill standards for a variety of occupations.

The standards will identify the specific knowledge, skill, and ability levels needed to perform a given job in a particular industry.

Although employers could use the standards to certify workers in those industries, and employees could use them to demonstrate their level of competence, they would not be required to do so.

The standards could also be used to help craft youth-apprenticeship, "tech prep,'' and other school-to-work transition programs.

"The future of our workforce depends on our ability to define occupational and academic skills that are needed to keep America competitive,'' Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander said in a statement announcing the awards.

"These grants are an important step in our efforts to develop curricula and training programs that reflect the real needs of employers and businesses in our changing global economy,'' he said.

Catalyst for Change

In recent years, a growing consensus has developed over the need to create industry-specific skill standards as a way to strengthen training programs and clarify the demands placed on future workers.

Last spring, in a series of regional hearings conducted by the Labor and Education departments, representatives from education, industry, government, and labor generally expressed their support for such standards.

According to Betsy Brand, the assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, the demonstration projects are designed to serve as a catalyst for further work in the private sector.

Although some proposals in Congress have called for the creation of a federally sponsored body that would oversee the development of such standards, Ms. Brand argued in an interview last month that the creation of such a group is premature.

"My personal fear is that, if the government gets too invested in this project, given that we're working with business and industry, they will back away,'' she said.

Eventually, the Bush Administration would like to see the creation of a privately funded, privately led effort to create such standards in a variety of industries, she said.

Industries participating in the pilot projects include hospitality and tourism, computer-aided drafting, printing, the health sciences, electronics, retail, and metalworking.

The 13 grant recipients are working with coalitions of employers, employees, labor officials, educators, and other training providers to develop the standards. Grantees will also develop a process for certifying training programs that meet the standards.

Grades 13 and Beyond

The coalitions are contributing another $6.6 million to the projects. The Labor and Education departments also will make available an additional $2.3 million for research, technical assistance, evaluation, and future projects.

Ms. Brand said the industry-specific standards would be particularly relevant for students in grades 13 and beyond, including those in tech-prep and youth-apprenticeship programs.

They would build on the work now under way to create academic standards for what students should know and be able to do before leaving high school, she said.

"There are few standards in the academic area right now,'' she said. "Our vision is that the academic standards will underlie many of the technical standards.''

Grant recipients are: the Foundation for Industrial Modernization, $546,687; the Electronic Industries Foundation, $545,658; the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, $544,537; the Education Development Center in Newton, Mass., $527,383; the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, $516,127; the Far West Lab for Educational Research and Development, $500,000; the American Electronics Association, $300,000; the National Tooling and Machining Association, $300,000; the Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education, $298,560; the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/Vocational-Technical Education Consortium of States, $253,070; the National Retail Federation, $207,000; the Institute of Industrial Launderers, $108,035; and the National Electrical Contractors Association, $65,600.

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