How should the United States government revitalize career and technical education (CTE) to meet 21st century needs, including collaboration and partnership between K-12 public education and the workforce?
The need for a national career education program is driven by a few principles. Firstly, CTE can help to keep students in school. In 2011, seven percent of American students dropped out of high school (“Dropout rates”, n.d.). CTE programs help to keep students in school because they connect what students are learning to the outside world, giving students a purpose and motivation for finishing school. They also tend to focus more on hands on learning, which can appeal to a different style of learner than traditional schooling.
Secondly, CTE can improve the job outlook for students who graduate with a high school diploma. Approximately 3/4 of the workforce begins with less than a 4-year degree. Many of them do not have the skill set necessary to fulfill the jobs available (“School-to-Work”, 1994). Public schools and community colleges need to help these students develop skills for the workplace and/or motivate them to continue their education. The unemployment rate for high school graduates is at 4.3%. However, for those with an associate’s degree, unemployment is 3% (Liming & Wolf, 2008). CTE programs in school can help high school graduates have employment rates closer to those of students with associate’s degrees because they have more training in their vocation. Students with a high school diploma typically work in fields such as transportation, food service, production, construction, installation, and maintenance, and specifically in positions such as carpenters, brick masons, electricians, HVAC repair, industrial mechanics, linemen, automotive technicians, plumbers, and truck drivers (Liming & Wolf, 2008). These are all industries that can offer career training in public K-12 schools. CTE can either aid high school graduates in getting jobs in better fields or ensure that graduates start in higher positions within those fields. Most students with only a high school diploma join the work world in an unskilled profession, and only about 15% have a managerial or professional position (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2011). CTE can increase the number of high school graduates who are able to fulfill midlevel or manager level positions, jobs that provide a living wage and more job satisfaction. In his most recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for job training that does not just help a young person get a job, but put them on a path so that they have a career for life (Obama, 2014).
CTE also provides employers with a workforce that is either trained when they leave high school with the specific skills necessary for their jobs, or has been inspired to attain post-secondary education in their fields. In 1996, when the Perkins Act was renewed, only 20% of jobs needed a...