With a shortage of skilled workers, career and technical education is ready to be taken seriously
Career and technical education (CTE) programs — which feature academically and professionally rigorous classes and send graduates off to postsecondary programs at high rates — may be uniquely positioned to prepare young adults for the future of work.
Good middle-class jobs for people with only a high-school diploma are disappearing, increasingly being replaced by skilled service jobs such as those in health care, information technology and finance. Companies often have difficulties filling these positions.
High-quality CTE, experts hope, will address many of these issues with retooled, up-to-date programs that help propel students to postsecondary education and, in the process, give them more in-state connections and prepare them not only for in-demand jobs but for the flexibility the future will require.
But career and technical education is still has a stigma attached to it. Historically, such programs were limited to a handful of skilled trades that did not necessarily lead to well-paying jobs; students were separated into vocational and nonvocational categories early in their academic careers.
Often this tracking system was discriminatory. “There’s no question that CTE has a dark history of tracking low-income and minority students,” said Kate Blosveren Kreamer, deputy executive director of Advance CTE, a nonprofit that represents state leaders responsible for career and technical education. “But the job economy has changed and CTE is really in a period of transformation.”
The Carl Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1984 and accelerated with the act’s 2006 “improvement,” which rebranded vocational education as CTE, encouraged substantive integration of strong academics with up-to-date technical education and increased state and local accountability.
Nationally, there’s some evidence that the efforts of educators to refocus the career and technical model as a pathway to postsecondary education are working. All 50 states and the District of Columbia report higher graduation rates for CTE students than for other students