career and technical education
For as long as anyone can remember, American high schools have mostly failed to provide their students with genuinely marketable skills. But of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. And in recent years, a growing number of “career and technical education” (CTE) programs have sought to bridge the gap between what students learn and what local labor markets demand, typically through a combination of specialized courses and hands-on apprenticeships.
The nation is suffused in enthusiastic talk about career and technical education. Policymakers ranging from President Trump to Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders have called for more schooling that can equip students for in-demand, middle-class jobs. Well, a lot of the discussion is driven by advocates, academics and elected officials. It seems useful to ask those with a track record of actually doing this work what they think.
The United States is in dire need of a technically trained workforce. According to a 2017 report by the National Science Academy of Sciences we, as a nation, are not meeting the increasing demand from industries -- a critical component for competing globally in the 21st century. The need has been identified, but the solution can be a slippery one to define for several reasons.
Betsy DeVos has spent much of her tenure as education secretary pushing alternatives to the traditional college experience. The nation should do much more, she has said, to expose students to occupational skills training that has long been stigmatized in favor of a four-year degree. Career and technical education, which was once known as vocational training, has shed some of that stigma thanks in part to growth of new fields in communications, health care and engineering.
As an African American, first-generation college graduate, I have slowly come to recognize the competitive advantage that a lab tech CTE program will provide my daughter. I had my reservations, based on the history of African Americans and vocational education, but could not argue with the outcomes or options. I believe the time has come for black students and college administrators to reconsider the value of CTE as a viable career pathway and untapped source of diverse students, respectively.
Overall, the study finds that many fields that support a significant number of U.S. jobs see little CTE course-taking in high school, suggesting the potential for greater alignment in these areas.
Students are also more likely to take courses in fields that support more local jobs, but less likely to do so when those jobs are high-paying, suggesting that today’s CTE is connecting kids with jobs that are plentiful but low-paying by industry standards.
“We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist,” says Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe, summing up a widespread viewpoint for Fox News. Into this breach have stepped trade and tech schools with a seductive promise: instead of spending four years and amassing life-crushing debt chasing a four-year degree with softening value, spend less money and time--typically one or two years, but as little as nine weeks, for a coding boot camp--training for a specific job in an industry that pays well and has a massive need for workers.
Business, marketing, tourism and manufacturing make up more than half of U.S. jobs -- but students in high school probably don’t know that. Only one-quarter of the career and technical education classes students take are focused on these industries, according to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C.
How Aligned is Career and Technical Education to Local Labor Markets?, co-authored by Pepperdine University associate professor Cameron Sublett and Fordham Institute senior research and policy associate David Griffith, examines whether students in high school CTE programs are more likely to take courses in high-demand and/or high-wage industries, both nationally and locally.
In this high-tech era where a college degree is positioned as a necessity for success, vocational education is often overlooked. But experts say that a vocational education provides the right experience for many jobs that are currently vacant. Indeed, there are 30 million jobs nationwide that don’t require a Bachelor’s Degree that pay an average of $55,000 annually, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.