Out with the Old, In with the New
Vocational training is out, and Career and Technical Education (“CTE”) is in. They sound similar, but is there a difference? Last century’s vocational programs included training for various jobs such as a trade worker or technician. The primary objective was to prepare high school students not seeking higher education for the work force after graduation. In recent years this has changed. CTE offers a more extensive pathway to success, one that prepares students of all ages for higher education as well as meaningful jobs in high demand 21st century trades and professions. The objective of CTE is to align high school education with postsecondary options as well as prepare students for a career at whatever point they decide to pursue one.
One major difference in CTE is that not all training occurs in the walls of high school. While some education still takes place in high school, it can also occur at community colleges, for-profit schools and industry trade associations, all at a fraction of the cost of a four-year institution. CTE offers both academic and career-oriented courses, many including opportunities to gain real-world work experience through internships, on-the-job training and certifications, depending on the field of study. CTE provides students with a wide range of career possibilities that include both skilled and diverse trades. Currently, the National Career Framework has developed 16 designated career clusters, which serve as an organizational tool for schools in their curriculum design and a navigation guide for students on their path to success in education and career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of the new jobs created in the next decade fall into a handful of these career clusters, including health science, information technology, construction, transportation, and hospitality. At the same time, the average tradesperson today is 56 years old and has approximately 10 years remaining until retirement. In many cases, these jobs cannot be replaced by technology, but they do require specific training and skill. As this skilled group reaches retirement and more skilled jobs go unfulfilled, two outcomes are certain: the demand and wages for these jobs will increase. CTE fulfills employer needs in these skilled areas and allows students to take on less debt to achieve an in-demand career.
The most effective CTE programs have well-prepared educators and targeted internship opportunities for professional development. They tend to maintain partnerships with businesses that provide students with authentic work experience as well as a strong relationship between the technical field of study and the core academic subjects. CTE is an investment by schools and educators, allowing students to learn and prepare for quality jobs. The next hurdle is scaling the most successful programs so that as many students as possible can take advantage and enjoy successful careers.