A pair of bipartisan bills introduced by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-2) aim to provide increased support for manufacturing education and STEM careers for women.

The Manufacturing Universities Act of 2014 (H.R. 5526) would establish a Manufacturing Universities program at colleges and universities to better prepare students for jobs. Schools with existing engineering programs can apply for a Manufacturing University designation, which could make up to $5 million available annually for four years for the schools to improve programs that emphasize manufacturing, increase efforts with manufacturers and support students working with those companies.

The program would be established in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards & Technology. A companion bill in the Senate (S. 2719) was introduced by U.S. Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Esty’s Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act (H.R. 5527) directs the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs to support and recruit women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions, including to have more women outside laboratory positions and in management roles.

The bill highlights congressional findings that women comprise 50 percent of the overall workforce, but only 25 percent of the workforce in STEM positions — and that just 26 percent of women who earn STEM degrees actually work in STEM-related jobs.

Both bills are the product of a workforce development roundtable Esty held August in Waterbury, during which she solicited testimony from manufacturers, educators and local leaders. The most common refrain, as has been the case in manufacturing for years now, is that companies are still in dire need of skilled workers.

“I have heard directly from manufacturers across the district who are struggling to find the highly-skilled workers they need,” said Esty in a statement. “It is critical that our students are ready for these jobs.”