Throughout my time serving as the representative for Ohio’s 14th Congressional District, I’ve had the privilege of attending all sorts of events across Northeast Ohio, but one of my all-time favorites is the Alliance for Working Together’s annual RoboBots Competition.

 If you have yet to attend, you are missing out. The competition – which features student-made, remote-control robots that battle it out – draws thousands of attendees from all over the Buckeye State each year.

 But RoboBots isn’t just a fun, exciting experience for high school and middle school students. It also provides the next generation with opportunities to learn about careers in manufacturing. The students spend months designing and building their robots. They even get to work with a mentor from a local manufacturing company, which gives them a front row seat to learn what opportunities in today’s manufacturing industry look like.

The manufacturing industry employs more than 12 million Americans nationwide and has long played a key role in Northeast Ohio’s economy. Currently, manufacturing accounts for over $100 billion of Ohio’s economic output and employs more than 12.5 percent of the Buckeye workforce – that’s about 685,000 people.

 It often surprises people when they find out that the majority of our nation’s manufacturers are small businesses. In fact, about 70 percent of the hundreds of thousands of manufacturers in the United States have fewer than 20 employees and, as of 2017, small businesses comprised 89 percent of all exporters in Ohio. 

 As a member of the Buy American Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, protecting these manufacturers and the jobs they provide has always been one of my top priorities. I consistently meet with local Northeast Ohio manufacturers to understand how Washington’s policies impact their businesses and how I can best advocate for them in Congress. One of the most common concerns I hear is that they have jobs available but cannot find qualified workers to fill them.

 These jobs should be highly sought after, with the average manufacturing worker earning roughly $84,800 annually, including benefits such as paid leave, supplemental pay and insurance. However, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, of the nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs that will likely be needed over the next decade, approximately 2 million are expected to go unfilled.

 Initiatives like AWT’s RoboBots can help us address this gap by showing students, parents, educators and others understand what career paths in manufacturing have to offer and giving students the opportunity to gain the skills and experience to help them compete for jobs in the industry. We need to implement similar programs nationwide that take proactive steps to close the skills gap and help the next generation of Americans enter the workforce.

When you show kids the possibility of what their futures can be, there’s no stopping them. That’s why in Congress, I fight for career and technical education programs and initiatives like RoboBots that do just that.

I’m proud to stand by these critical programs that help shape the futures of millions of students and will continue to ensure they are prepared for the job opportunities that the 21st century workforce has to offer them, both here in Ohio and across the country.

Mr. Joyce is a U.S. congressman representing District 14 in Ohio. He is a resident of Bainbridge Township.

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