The United States is facing a critical workforce challenge. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than 50 million workers quit their jobs in 2022. Factors contributing to what is called The Great Resignation include:
- a new focus on work-life balance and flexibility spurred by the pandemic
- the retirement of many baby boomer workers
- young people moving away from what were once considered blue-collar jobs
These shifts – some cultural and some demographic – shed new light on the importance of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. CTE programs prepare high school students with the skills they need to explore and pursue meaningful, well-paying careers.
Unlike vocational programs of the past, today’s CTE encompasses a variety of courses and career interests for both college-bound and non-college-bound students alike. In fact, increasing numbers of CTE students complete the coursework necessary for attending a four-year college or university.
By moving away from the concept of blue-collar and white-collar jobs, CTE helps prepare students for 16 clusters, representing 79 pathways that can lead to success in career and college.
The 16 clusters are:
- Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources
- Architecture and Construction
- Arts, Audio-Visual Technology, and Communications
- Business Management and Administration
- Education and Training
- Government and Public Administration
- Health Science
- Hospitality and Tourism
- Human Services
- Information Technology
- Law, Public Safety, Corrections. and Security
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
- Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics
Although CTE programs were on the decline for a few decades, they now play a vital role in solving the critical workforce challenge in the U.S. Here are 10 reasons why CTE is important.
1.) CTE prepares students for high-demand jobs in any industry. As you can see from the previous list, CTE covers much more ground than vocational (Vo-Tech) education of the 20th century. While you may have thought of Vo-Tech classes as mainly focusing on automotive or construction skills, today’s CTE blends technical and academic skills to prepare students for an evolving workforce.
In other words, CTE is not replacing academic lessons; it is complementing them with lessons in practical skills. Students can complete most CTE programs within a few years, equipping students for many attractive and well-paying careers.
2.) CTE students learn by doing. CTE programs focus on hands-on learning. Students become more engaged and motivated when they can actively participate in the learning process rather than being only passive classroom learners.
CTE does include some theory, but hands-on experience and application tests make up the bulk of the course work. With these methods, students gain some important experience in their chosen field before launching their careers.
3.) CTE teaches soft skills. In addition to the skills, they need to perform a specific job, CTE students also learn so-called soft skills that will serve them well no matter what the future holds. These soft skills that employers and college admissions officers value in their employees include:
- critical thinking
- time management
4.) CTE helps close the skills gap. Industries like healthcare, IT, and skilled trades need workers with technical skills, and they need them now. In many cases, students who have completed CTE can move seamlessly into high-demand jobs.
These jobs offer the potential for promotion, including further responsibility and higher compensation.
5.) CTE helps keep kids in school. When young people feel their classes are not relevant to their lives, they often disengage. Some students struggle to see the point in studying, keeping up their grades, or remaining in school, for that matter.
However, CTE programs can be the bridge that keeps kids engaged and learning. There is a direct link between CTE and lower dropout rates and higher student achievement levels.
According to the Association for Career and Technical Education, students enrolled in CTE programs have a 93 percent graduation rate compared to the national freshman average of 80 percent. Another study showed that students with a concentration in CTE are nearly 15 percent more likely to become high school graduates than the national average.
And, of course, students who get their high school diploma are the ones who are most likely to pursue careers or college enrollment.
6.) CTE can lead to success in college. CTE offers students a sense of direction. This motivation can lead to a career right out of high school or to college enrollment.
Rather than diverting a college-bound student’s attention away from college preparation classes, CTE can work in tandem with this goal. A Fordham Institute study revealed that students taking more CTE classes are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as their peers.
Another study found that 80 percent of students taking a college preparatory academic curriculum along with a rigorous CTE program met or exceeded the standard for college and career readiness. That percentage outshines the 63 percent of students taking the same academic curriculum without a rigorous CTE program.
7.) CTE provides post-high school workplace readiness. For high school graduates who decide not to pursue college or who want to delay their college education, CTE prepares them well.
According to a Gallup-Lumina poll, many business leaders care more about a prospective employee’s applied skills than where they went to college or what they majored in. In other words, college graduates will need specific skills, and CTE can provide those skills.
Many high school students who have completed rigorous CTE programs are employable right after high school graduation.
8.) CTE sets the path for high-wage jobs. According to a U.S. Department of Education study of workers eight years after high school graduation, those who focused on CTE courses in high school had higher average annual earnings than non-CTE students.
Many of today’s top employers, stakeholders, and policymakers are strong advocates for CTE because they have seen positive results in their industries.
Some innovative CTE programs focus on these high-demand and high-paying clusters:
- Information technology, including robotics
- Health science
- Business, management, and administration
9.) CTE helps communities. CTE helps impact communities in positive ways. When students are ready to take fulfilling jobs in their local communities, everyone wins.
As a result, many businesses – small, large, and in-between — support these vital learning experiences. For example, students who learn healthcare skills get to work keeping community members healthy and even saving lives. Construction workers build critical infrastructure for our cities and towns. And agriculture workers help grow and raise the food our families need.
10.) CTE adapts to a changing world. Artificial intelligence and other forms of automation are replacing some jobs and creating new ones. Students who engage in CTE learn cutting-edge skills that make sense for the world they live in. They have real-world learning experiences and get advice from experts who are doing the work in real life.
This approach to learning can be satisfying and rewarding. And when students see the value in what they are learning, they work harder and achieve more success.
Haskell Education provides the furniture students need to succeed in CTE programs. We design and manufacture high-quality furniture that enhances learning outcomes and supports the highest levels of student engagement. Let’s work together to make a difference in young people’s lives. We’re ready when you are.
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