Eduporium Weekly | Keeping up with Career and Technical Education

  • Posted on: October 7, 2017 - 8:10am
  • By: alarmand

Like it or not, liberal arts degrees won’t get students as far as they always have. If you haven’t fully realized it yet or haven’t fully acknowledged it, the new dominant degree is one from the STEM fields. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) economies demand that graduates possess a number of new hands-on tech skills that they simply cannot get without experience. For that reason, Career and Technical Education (CTE) is taking off in colleges and universities, but also appearing even earlier than that by necessity.


How Schools Can Guarantee CTE Success


Since more and more school systems are transitioning to offering some kind of CTE program for students in high school, it’s becoming more important that they go about this in the right way. Like any new addition to the curriculum, CTE courses must be well-planned, tie in with students’ current abilities, and provide them with relevant knowledge they can use moving forward. The first thing many CTE leaders have to do is become more familiar with their school’s budget. Yes, all new education initiatives do cost money as well as time. CTE, in particular, requires students have access to a number of different tools, which aren’t always cheap, but necessary in order to provide a true CTE experience.


Like in general education, teachers can also create personalized CTE experiences for students with different skills, different preferred areas of focus, and different graduation requirements. It also might be a good idea to consider having a math or science teacher already on the staff take on the role of teaching one or two CTE classes rather than hiring a whole bunch of new teachers. Of course, if this is not possible or too difficult, hiring extra help is perfectly fine. When first starting out, taking a look at how other schools do CTE can be very helpful. Chances are, there are already one or two schools in the your district that have CTE programs and meeting with leaders there or simply reviewing how they go about teaching it and incorporating it into the school day and curriculum can be very helpful.


In the end, it will all come down to planning since introducing new courses into the school’s schedule tends to make things a bit messy. The best way to approach this is with a very high level of organization. Determining which courses lead to which credits (and if some can be used for multiple credits) will help ensure that every student is getting all the things they need out of the CTE addition. This is also the time to double check to make sure that the teachers assigned to each new class have the appropriate certifications. Finally, it’s important for school leaders to remember that this transition will not successfully happen overnight. It will take time, so it’s probably best to start planning up to a year ahead of implementation to better the chances of everything running smoothly once the program is rolled out.


Transforming a School into a Center for CTE Success


School leaders are often tasked with the challenge of breathing new life into their curricula and making it as relevant to future student opportunities as possible. With this shift in learning styles comes a continued focus on career and technical education. The possibilities CTE provides are very helpful for today’s students as classrooms are transformed into places for active learning that mirror real-world challenges. Rather than providing traditional learning for every student, many schools and districts are now offering the opportunity to practice real-world techniques as part of the school day. And, when implemented in an entire school or district, the shift to CTE can leave a lasting impression on student readiness.


Career and technical education programs can take form in a number of different ways, but the main goal remains the same. They are designed to prepare students for actual, real-world work earlier than ever by giving them the chance to learn the hands-on and personal skills during school. CTE classes are now largely made up of STEM-focused initiatives, but there is plenty of training for careers that aren’t as STEM-heavy as well, like EMT training, for example. The unique thing about CTE is that in can take place within the school or afford students with the opportunity to go out into the community and truly learn by doing. When possible, this is the ideal way to integrate career and technical training into a student’s everyday activities.


With the expansion of CTE offerings in many of the country’s middle and high schools, students are getting the valuable chance to focus on the STEM professions. This includes anything from manufacturing and skills trades, which the implementation of 3D printing labs and classes can help with. The hope is to prepare as many students as possible with the skills required to fill the jobs that continue to be left without qualified workers. CTE enables students to build the tech skills that this economy provides. Creating this entry point for kids before they get to college is already paying dividends and going a very long way in ensuring their success in the future.


Turning Passions to Careers through CTE Training


By the time they reach middle school and certainly high school, many students have an idea of what they want their next step to be after graduation. Some are ready to take the leap into college, but there are more and more students who are most comfortable jumping right into the workforce. This is because they have had the hands-on training in their CTE classes and, after deciding what they would like to pursue, they are qualified to start pursuing it earlier. Often, students make this decision based on what they enjoy doing. Maybe they like building robots. Maybe they like programming or inventing IoT devices. Whatever the case may be, there’s a decent chance that students have something they are passionate about and, if it involves technology, there’s a chance they could profit from it in today’s economy.


Take computers, for example. So many teenaged students enjoy fiddling around with computers and even occasionally building them by hand. While most of them consider this to be just a simple hobby when they have the time, they’re also constantly trying to make the time to enjoy this hobby even more. Conveniently, there is a strong connection between this kind of hobbyist making and the careers that employers are struggling to fill. When kids are messing around with computers and processors and whatever, they’re learning more than they realize. They’re more than likely even picking up on programming as well. Why is this important? Have you seen the economy lately? It’s pretty full of unfilled STEM jobs, namely those that require computer science skills.


By the time they reach high school, students are realizing that they can take these hobbies that they love and potentially turn them into a profitable career. We say potentially because it will still take a great deal of effort and practice to fine tune their skills, but they will definitely have a leg up if they’ve spent a good deal of time tinkering and inventing. With just a simple laptop, students can learn more than we would ever have imagined a few years ago. Many programmers are self-taught and they’re able to leverage their skills to create a career for themselves in the STEM-heavy economy. On the other hand, schools are taking note of this maker mentality as well and using students’ passions to get them involved in career and technical training sooner than they normally would be. It just goes to show that, in today’s gig economy, we shouldn’t overlook or understate the importance of creativity, inventiveness, problem solving, and tech skills.


Enhancing CTE Programs to Improve Student Readiness


Any school that makes a concerted effort to offer CTE-focused programs or just a couple of CTE courses is on the right track for preparing students for the future. As you know, in education, however, there is always room for improvement. The educational landscape, resources, and expectations (among other things) are always changing, so a lot of the time, school leaders are expected to adapt to meet student, teacher, and classroom needs. Since working and learning go hand in hand when CTE instruction is at its peak, educators put in charge of school CTE programs need to make sure this balance remains throughout the course of the program. Practical experiences are important, but so too is the learning that takes place within the classroom.


One of the best ways to improve CTE instruction is, believe it or not, one of the main ways for improving traditional instruction - by constantly collaborating with colleagues. In an ideal CTE program, students will gain experience at local businesses and train for the careers that are most likely to be profitable in the future. Teachers can create feedback based on these students’ experiences and use it to either recommend that company in the coming years or suggest finding something different. They can also work together to determine how to best spend classroom time, which probably includes relating the work done within the school’s walls to somehow boosting the skills students will need for the workforce.


Most importantly, the best CTE programs are those that encourage student learning and focus on the importance of real-world experience. The hands-on learning that CTE students do should highlight both academic standards and challenge them to build the most appropriate skills while learning in the way that best suits them. If possible, schools should also look into creating programs in which their CTE students can earn industry certifications. This helps encourage kids to pursue a certain endeavor until they master it and, of course, looks good on any job application. In CTE, the importance of one-on-one meetings between students and teachers is pretty important, too, so try to schedule this into instruction, as well. This allows for students to map out their personal and career goals and gives them a realistic picture of how they are able to achieve them.


Local Businesses Help CTE Students Prepare for Careers


We’ve touched on this nuance of CTE instruction and it’s becoming more popular for good reason. We are huge proponents of active learning or learning by doing whether that learning is taking place in a traditional classroom setting, makerspace, or even a CTE course out on the job. Since this is such a large part of successful CTE initiatives, schools are trying to make sure they do it right. The good news is that local businesses will usually be beyond thrilled when approached with the proposition of having students complete practical CTE coursework with them. They can help provide students with the experience they need and allow educators and parents to feel comfortable knowing that the students are in good hands.


Ultimately, CTE comes down to learning by doing - a simple approach to building skills, but one that shows its worth time and time again. Though approaches to CTE instruction change from time to time, this tenet remains at its core. There are even ways for schools to get state-endorsed permissions to partner with local businesses so that their students can gain on-the-job training. This is likely different from state to state, but it’s great for CTE teachers to know that they have this as an option. As is the case with almost any education initiative, this can be done in one school or at the district level - depending on the practicality and available resources as well as some other factors.


This should go without saying, but make sure that the businesses students are partnering with offer them relevant experience in an industry that will most likely also remain relevant. Since we know all about its continuing relevance, this tends to mean the STEM fields. Students learning from STEM professionals, more than likely, is an easy recipe for success. Businesses like this too because they could very well be providing their future employees with this experience. Especially in smaller towns, there’s a good chance that these students could end up working for the same company that they get their experience at, which will set them up well ahead of others entering at the same time. While it has its benefits but might not be for everyone, career and technical education definitely is something to keep an eye on and an important option for some students to consider exploring.


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