What it means to build effective CTE programming and why it matters
Let’s establish something right at the outset of this article: career and technical education (CTE) has always mattered. It’s been a cornerstone of college and career readiness for over a century, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). As a concept, it’s as old as the country is, when apprenticeships were the most common form of what we now think of as public education. The most recent count of students enrolled in some kind of CTE class clocks in at a full 58% of American high schoolers, and the hands-on experience and exposure inside of those classrooms is a critical part of preparing young adults to enter the modern workforce. With numbers like those, it doesn’t really get the airplay you would expect. Why that is depends on who you talk to, and changes from state to state and district to district. Sometimes it’s a lack of resources, sometimes it’s an overabundance of misconceptions. Increasingly, it’s simply due to the fact that the conversation around college and career readiness is a rapidly changing one, and school districts, educators, and legislators are working around the clock to build better solutions for students.
The simple fact is that whether or not CTE has been a popular topic in the past, it’s certainly coming into the spotlight now. Building a comprehensive and effective solution for CTE students is codified into the experience SchooLinks provides. It’s part of what makes us a modern college and career readiness platform for all students.
Here’s how we do it:
The foundation for effective career and technical education: equity in focus
As the workforce evolves, state legislative initiatives are evolving to keep up. Recently enacted laws and sweeping changes to education in states like Texas, Ohio, and Illinois have all included mandates for broadening the focus of college and career readiness by assigning equal weight to CTE by including career pathway planning in district compliance measures.
Pivoting to implement the required changes to programming and reporting becomes easier with SchooLinks. That’s because students begin by working their way through career interest inventories at their own pace while being given access to up-to-date information about career clusters and industries. As students complete assessments, they see personalized and relevant information that’s dynamically curated to their results.
Everything they explore next is tailored to each student’s strengths, interests, and goals.
When students select a career cluster to explore, they’ll find information on the education and training, job growth, regional distribution of demand, and the ability to toggle between military and civilian careers. Once students set a goal, SchooLinks can help them determine how to pursue the training they will need to pursue it.
All of this student exploration is facilitated by an experience designed to help them sort options by real-world factors like location and cost. By giving equal weight to this kind of career discovery and exploration, students receive both the message that CTE is as worthwhile as standard college prep, and that either pathway (or both!) leads to positive and successful long-term outcomes.
The critical keystone for effective CTE: engaged industry partners
There’s an established body of research that explores all of the ways that industry partner engagement helps create better outcomes for students, both while they’re still in school and from a postsecondary standpoint. That’s a great place to start, but it’s also a good idea to zoom out and consider how to maximize benefits to the industry partners themselves, as well. Here are two numbers that can help achieve that bigger picture: 30 million and 69%.
Let’s start with 30 million. That’s the number of “good jobs” — roles with a median salary of at $55,000 a year — that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree, according to research from Georgetown University. With that in mind, let’s talk about that 69%. That’s the percentage of human resources professionals who report that an inability to recruit and retain talent for those jobs frequently impacts a firm's performance, according to research from Harvard Business School.
On its face, that pair of facts looks like a paradox. Why is it proving so hard to recruit and retain talent for such a wide swath of the labor market, especially when those roles pay so well? The answer lies in the so-called “awareness gap”: these jobs are being overlooked, and are therefore chronically under-filled. If the question is: “How can we help students succeed after high school while creating sustainable and healthy local economies?” then bridging the awareness gap is certainly the answer.
Partnerships between K-12 school districts and industry professionals help accomplish that.
Industry partnerships help create talent pipelines in school districts
By introducing students to real-world representations of what it means to work in specialized, “middle skills”, or rapidly-growing professions, healthy industry partnerships allow both employers and school districts to capture student interest when it matters most — as student are beginning to discover their strengths and interests and contextualize them for inclusion in their postsecondary plans.
Recruiting and retaining talent for roles that are chronically under-filled or stubbornly vacant will require education and industry to work together to address talent supply. That’s why it’s so important to set up a framework that works to create inter-mutual partnerships between school districts and the professionals within their communities.
SchooLinks enables the interaction between districts and industry partners, providing a scalable framework for supplying expertise — and talent — where it’s needed most in our local communities. Asynchronous and synchronous mentorship opportunities and the ability to source talent for internship and job openings are all easily accessed through SchooLinks.
CTE stakeholders, meanwhile, can schedule events like job fairs and easily invite connected industry partners to participate. These are just a few of the ways SchooLinks is helping to bridge the skills gap, helping to build a sustainable and healthy local economy.
The missing piece: how financial literacy builds better CTE programs
The final building block in the overall architecture of effective CTE is a willingness to address financial literacy. Traditionally, students have gravitated toward one of two options to work with during postsecondary planning. The first is to pursue a four-year degree. This option is usually positioned as the “gold standard” outcome, financially speaking, with the lifetime earnings associated with a Bachelor’s degree or higher serving as the metric to justify that positioning. When students forego this first option, it’s often because they’re clear-eyed about the expense attached to it, with a growing number of students citing cost as an obstacle to pursuing it. The other option students consider is entering the workforce directly after earning a high school diploma or its equivalent. Sure, the associated lifetime earning potential of careers this training qualifies them for is not as high, but then again, neither is the barrier to entry in the form of student loan debt. This is an important distinction for student populations that lack financial resources, like the 26% of students in districts that use SchooLinks and also qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch.
The takeaway here? Students are already thinking about what they can afford and how the amount of money they spend on postsecondary education will affect them in both the short- and long term. They don’t lack the critical thinking skills or foresight required to attempt to chart the smartest path between them. What they need is a better compass.
SchooLinks has a suite of financial literacy activities that empower students to contextualize their choices, see the bigger picture, and draw a clear line between how the decisions they make today create the future they want tomorrow.
With the right financial literacy skills for students, the CTE 'awareness' gap shrinks
Students can use our platform to weigh salary information for careers that interest them against the cost of associated training and education, and see how two-and four-year degree costs measure up to one another. SchooLinks helps students connect CTE coursework to higher earnings at a variety of education levels when compared to comparable non-CTE training.
We democratize access to scholarship and financial aid information — we show students how they can take advantage of that information — and deliver that information so that it’s easy to understand and keep track of. Reducing potential debt is just one part of the equation, and the student experience we provide reflects that. Our extremely popular “Game of Life” activity actually manages to make managing income and debt engaging: students can use it to see how long it will take to pay down expenses with the earning potential associated with their chosen career and set and explore quality of life expectations.
School districts and CTE stakeholders work day in and day out to prepare students to thrive after graduation day. SchooLinks is unique because we help make students equal stakeholders in their own post-graduation outcomes and enthusiastic participants in that daily work. Want to see what SchooLinks can do your your school district, too?