Speaking to an audience of defense-business leaders, educators and elected officials, U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson called Friday for ending the “outdated stigma” associated with career and technical education.

He recalled days when those classes were often looked at as fallback plans for students who were not college material or even problem children.

“That's not today,” said Thompson, a Republican from the 15th Congressional District, when delivering the keynote address during Showcase for Commerce's John P. Murtha Breakfast inside the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center in downtown Johnstown.

Showcase for Commerce is an annual defense industry expo in its 29th year in Johnstown.

Thompson believes tech-ed opportunities can provide “a primary pathway that appeals to students of all abilities and people of all ages.”

Thompson said the need for skilled workers was a common theme among vendors at Showcase and noted that, in his opinion, the nationwide skills gap is “really the only limiting factor on our economy today.”

Last year, Thompson's Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which overhauled the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, was adopted and signed by the president.

“Places like the Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center and the Admiral Peary Area Vocational Technical School in Ebensburg will benefit from this overhaul, this update, this modernization of the Perkins program, investing a billion dollars on top of what we already spend to make sure that we are workforce ready, as well as our service members who are transitioning to civilian careers and veterans who are looking for new skills, new opportunities to obtain a promotion or a wage increase,” Thompson said.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, offered his support for career and technology education during a meeting Friday with The Tribune-Democrat editorial board.

“For decades, we put too much emphasis on too many kids going to a four-year school and getting a liberal arts degree,” Toomey said. “I'm all for a liberal arts education. I've got one myself. But it's not a good fit for everyone. And you see so many kids graduate with a mountain of debt, and then they don't necessarily have a lot of good job opportunities if they majored in Greek mythology.”

Ed Sheehan Jr., Showcase event chairman, said he points out the value of career and technology education when meeting with high school students.

“I think there's an assumption that everybody's going to go to college,” said Sheehan, Concurrent Technologies Corp.'s president and CEO. “And I don't think that's necessary. I think the trades and the career technology centers provide a great resource. In fact, when I think about entrepreneurship, one of the best ways to become an entrepreneur is to start your own company and learning a trade is a fast way to do that.”

Locally, Johnstown Area Regional Industries helps provide education opportunities in several fields, including welding and truck-driving.

“We are trying to push as many people into those kinds of training programs as possible, because those folks are going to be the foundation of our companies, our manufacturing entities, even health care-related fields,” JARI President and CEO Linda Thomson said. “So it's incredibly important to us in our region that those technical schools get the resources they need to stay competitive.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.