Career and technical education, or CTE, is an education model found in many schools throughout the United States. The next evolution of vocational education, CTE is focused on providing students with skills, knowledge and other training to prepare them for a career.
CTE programs are a valuable part of any school. Career and technical education offers a number of tangible advantages to the students, the school and to society as a whole. Take a look at these five proven benefits of CTE.
The education system is built to teach students about important topics such as history, math and science. But many students leave high school with an insufficient understanding of how those topics are applied and how that translates into career opportunities.
About one-third of students in bachelor’s degree programs change their college major at least once, with 1 out of every 10 student changing majors multiple times. A key reason for this is a lack of hands-on career exploration opportunities during high school. Without career-focused education, students don’t have a clear picture of what a future job might actually be like. Making choices with limited information increases the likelihood of needing to do course-corrections down the line.
Career and technical education, however, is built around the idea of giving students those hands-on opportunities with the end goal of getting a job firmly in sight. They get to learn about the industry associated with that course, learn the basics and try out the work for themselves. In many cases, instructors in CTE courses were former professionals in that field themselves, helping to add additional insight.
Almost 85% of families with students in CTE programs are satisfied with their school’s career exploration experience, compared to only 54% of prospective families being satisfied.
Taking CTE helps students better understand the path they might want to pursue – before they spend time and money on education for a career they end up not loving.
Unlike most traditional academic classrooms, which mostly focus on knowledge and theory, career and technical education focuses on true skills training. Students don’t just learn about things, but how to do them as well.
Acquiring technical skills are key parts of career preparation. These skills are the real ‘work’ in any job: Using tools, taking measurements, handling materials. Reading how to do these things in a book is good preparation, but it takes practicing it in a lab or workshop to master.
Along with technical skills, or “hard skills,” CTE also does a great job of teaching career readiness skills, or “soft skills.” These can include work ethic, time management, teamwork, problem solving and more. The experience students pick up working on CTE class projects helps to build these characteristics. Having traits like these is an important part of becoming a professional, and developing these attributes will be a major asset upon entering the workforce.
In addition to learning valuable skills, career and technical education students are often able to earn industry-recognized credentials and certifications from their courses.
Much like a diploma or a degree provides proof of completing an academic program, credentials and certifications show verification of skills training. Future employers can look at these achievements and get a picture of the talent and experience someone has.
Most high school graduates don’t have much career training or experience, if any, when entering the workforce. Earning credentials through CTE can therefore provide a leg up on the competition and position an individual well for gainful employment. It also means that they can jump ahead in the next stage of their training.
For example, an electrical student who completes his or her OSHA-10, NCCER Core and Electrical Level 1 curricula through their high school construction trades program would be far ahead of other candidates without any prior training. If they join an apprenticeship program, they could pick up training at Electrical Level 2, rather than starting from scratch.
While many of the other benefits listed here focus on building toward long-term careers, CTE also has major impacts on the shorter-term high school career of students. Students taking career and technical education courses have better high school graduation rates than their peers.
A recent study showed that CTE concentrators were 7% more likely than non-CTE concentrators to graduate from high school on time. Another study shows that CTE students have a 94% high school graduation rate.
The improvement in graduation rates is in large part due to the hands-on, real-world application that CTE provides. Many students who drop out do so because they don’t see meaning in what they are taught, and they struggle to get engaged and invested in the education. In fact, 81% of high school dropouts say that more relevance in their learning would have kept them in school. CTE offers these students meaningful learning opportunities that resonate and make an impact.
Career and technical education helps give students valuable skills and knowledge. But it is often not the last place on their educational journey.
Over 75% of students taking a CTE concentration in high school go on to enroll in postsecondary education and training after graduating. This includes bachelor’s degree programs, associate degree programs, apprenticeships, industry training programs and more.
Not only does CTE provide a great education in its own right, but it also acts as a stepping stone to the next stage in a student’s path to higher education, whatever form of that it may be. For the individual, that means more open doors and opportunities down the line. For society as a whole, that means a more skilled and experienced workforce.
With concerning trends like labor shortages and the college debt crisis continuing to capture attention, the way we think about education and career pathways is under greater examination.
Offering the many benefits discussed here and more, career and technical education may be part of the solution to many problems. And with 94% of parents in favor of expanding access to these programs, it’s time to give CTE the respect and support it deserves.