Senator Rob Portman kicked off his three-day tour of Southern and Southeastern Ohio at Southern State Community College on Wednesday.
Following a brief semi truck ride with one of Southern State’s Truck Driving Academy students, Portman sat down to discuss the workforce and education with several Highland County community members. This comes after earlier this year, Portman and Senator Tim Kaine introduced the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act, a bill which would enable students to use Pell Grants — need-based support for low-income students — for short-term courses. The current system only allows Pell Grants to be applied to programs that span at least 15 weeks, such as programs for two- and four-year degrees.
The bill aims to close what Poprtman and Kaine refer to as the “skill gap” between the unemployed and in-demand careers, with the main focus on trade programs.
“We’ve tried to really focus like a laser on getting people the training they need to lead this economy.” Portman said at the discussion on Wednesday. “[Some high school students] can’t afford to get their driver’s license. They sure can’t afford a welding course.”
There are many other obstacles that could prevent someone from attaining specialized skills or a job in their field, however. During the discussion with Portman, Highland County Commissioner Gary Abernathy and Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings pointed out that would-be trade students can be deterred due to society’s degradation of trade programs.
Julia Wise, executive director of the Highland County Community Action Organization Inc., cited a shortage in childcare facilities and public transportation as an obstacle, especially for those who work second or third shift.
While Portman acknowledged that these and other factors certainly affect the workforce, he foremost stressed the importance of making training more accessible.
“There’s no reason that Highland County gets left behind,” Portman said. “Not that jobs solve every problem in the world, but they help.”
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.