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Opening Statements

Chairman Molinaro: “Help Wanted: Exploring How Alternative Paths to Student Debt Can Help to Strengthen Small Business”

Subcommittee Chairman Marc Molinaro's Opening Statement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development is holding a hearing titled “Help Wanted: Exploring How Alternative Paths to Student Debt Can Help to Strengthen Small Business.”

Subcommittee Chairman Marc Molinaro’s opening statement as prepared for delivery:

Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing. First, I want to thank our witnesses for joining us today. Your time here is very much appreciated, and I look forward to your testimonies.

I’m very glad to have a constituent of mine, Mr. Bruno Schickel, the owner of Schickel Construction, as one of our witnesses here today. Mr. Schickel, thank you for taking the time to travel from Ithaca, New York to D.C. to share your perspective on the various issues that our small business owners currently face.

Today, the Subcommittee on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development hearing will focus on several critical issues that are holding Main Street America back. First, there’s no denying that small businesses both in my district and across the country are suffering from a workforce shortage crisis. As I travel around my district in Upstate New York, I continue to hear from local businesses about how they cannot find enough people to work. Despite offering higher wages, cash bonuses, or other incentives, they are still unable to attract workers. Small businesses have limited resources at their disposal to recruit and retain the workforce they need.

Every unfilled position represents a missed opportunity for a small business to serve its local community, increase their bottom-line, and grow its operation. This shortage is often exacerbated in rural communities, like the ones I represent in Upstate New York.

This inability to fill jobs not only impacts storefronts on Main Street, but also employers of skilled trade workers. This includes our construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and so many more. With a shortage of available workers, employers are having difficulty finding qualified employees to fill open positions due to increased competition for available workers and having to offer higher wages to retain them.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the top 20 occupations projected to see the biggest change in employment over the next 10 years, the majority are in careers that require training beyond high school but less than a four-year degree.

This means that millions of individuals who do not possess a four-year degree could have well-paying careers and obtain the necessary skills to fill these jobs, likely without needing to step onto a college campus.

This is all happening as the cost of a traditional four-year education continues to climb, reaching record highs. The rising cost of a four-year degree has saddled nearly 43 million Americans with student loan debt, equating to over $1.7 trillion.

As a result, we are left to confront a massive student debt crisis and a massive workforce shortage in skilled trades across the country. We should be promoting alternative education paths that are both more affordable and oftentimes more efficient than a typical four-year college degree such as registered apprenticeships, trade schools, and more.

In our current economic environment, we have to think practically.

As the former County Executive in Dutchess County New York, I have first-hand experience creating training programs and seeing the benefits these programs provide students. During my tenure, I worked with various nonprofit agencies, community centers, and other programs to help promote youth workforce development programs and overall worker readiness skills. This gave students the skills needed to go into various professions, including skilled labor jobs.

One great alternative pathway to a four-year degree is Career and Technical Education, known as CTE. In addition to being shorter and less expensive than a traditional four-year degree, CTE represents a complete range of career fields across the entire economy— and is driven by the needs and demands of employers. Preparing students with the technical skills needed to obtain high-paying, in-demand jobs will prove to be crucial to bridging our nation’s skills and workforce gap.

As policymakers, we must improve our understanding of workforce issues so we can prepare the next generation of workers and our small businesses that rely on these workers for success.

I hope this hearing can help shape how Congress can work to promote these vital alternative paths to education. By doing so, we will be working to solve our nation’s workforce shortage crisis while promoting less expensive, but oftentimes, more successful educational opportunities.

I am excited to have a diverse group of small business owners, some of whom have gone through CTE and other training programs. Today, our witnesses will have the opportunity to share their stories, current economic and workforce challenges, and how CTE and apprenticeship programs helped them become the business owners they are today.

Again, I want to thank you all again for being here with us today and I look forward to today’s conversation.

With that, I will yield to our distinguished Ranking Member from Kentucky, Mr. McGarvey.