Rethinking Career and Technical Education

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George Knowles, Communications Associate

The perception of Career and Technical Education (CTE) is undergoing a renaissance. While the overall average amount of CTE coursework in U.S. public schools is in decline, the rethinking of CTE’s value is not. CTE coursework is reemerging strongly among educators and policymakers alike as a viable, effective approach to prepare young people for a changing global economy with changing skill requirements.

Reframing the Model

CTE has often had to fight back against the idea that it lacked rigor, academic value, or connections to successful career pathways, but those perceptions are changing. Educators, employers, researchers, and policymakers are beginning to think of high-quality CTE coursework as less of a separate track, and more of an element of education built into all schools that has value for all students. ConnectEd’s Linked Learning program, for example, blends traditional academic coursework with an emphasis on real-world, professional experience and technical skills. A similar program, High Schools That Work, has been adopted in 30 states and the District of Columbia and incorporates career and technical training into its curriculum, combined with an emphasis on individual guidance and graduation plans.  “Today’s CTE programs are academically rigorous and help students learn theory along with practical applications of knowledge through project-based learning, career pathway programs, and develop employer-desired skills,” said Betsy Brand, Executive Director of the American Youth Policy Forum

“We have seen a shift toward having CTE be a component of every student’s education because it offers really diverse opportunities for students that allow them to contextualize their learning,” said Sean Lynch, Legislative and Public Affairs Manager for Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). “It partners really well with academic courses, and it also provides students with those skills that employers are looking for.”

Driving the Shift in Perception

In part, the aftermath of the 2008 economic crash and lack of qualified candidates for jobs is driving the renewed interest in CTE. Many employers report having trouble finding candidates with the appropriate skill sets, or having to train employees for the skills required for the job. According to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, of the $1.1 trillion spent in the United States annually on postsecondary workforce training in 2013, employers spent $413 billion on informal training.

“Employers were looking at this really huge dearth of qualified professionals for careers they had available. We’ve all heard about the skills gap, and employers are increasingly becoming aware of this as a big problem,” said Lynch.

Overcoming Stigma, Moving Forward

So how does CTE become mainstream? It will take time and effort to de-stigmatize CTE, while at the same time providing meaningful options for students who would benefit from it. “There is a political issue here. If CTE is going to survive, it’s going to have to overcome the tracking problem,” said Anthony Carnevale, Director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. “You have to make it a universal program so that it isn’t about tracking low-income and minority kids. But in the end, it is about tracking them, but in ways that gives them options and choices they don’t have now.”

Students, educators, and policymakers are looking ahead to determine how to best implement CTE into high school and postsecondary curriculums. The blend of integrated academic and work skills and increased student engagement, “I think the future of CTE involves more student input,” said Jennifer Lerner Brown, Deputy Director of the American Youth Policy Forum. “Students want to make that clear connection between what they’re learning in school and how it’s relevant to future jobs.”

George Knowles is the Communications Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum.






















The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.