Today the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) released the results of its recent study on the efficacy of high school level Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs across the country. The study reveals several areas of incongruence between the training provided by these programs and the career opportunities currently available.
Before discussing the study, however, it is worthwhile to pause and figure out what we mean when we say “CTE” or “CTE programs.” CTE can sometimes be confused with vocational training, and while in many ways the two are similar, they are not identical. Broadly speaking, vocational education aims to prepare students to enter specific lines of employment directly after high school graduation. CTE programs may in fact provide just such training, but they tend to emphasize making students ready to enter the workforce whenever they wind up choosing to do so, meaning that they don’t necessarily preclude postsecondary education. Thus, the overarching goal is to create a closer alignment between what students study and do at the secondary level (or even earlier) and what they elect to do thereafter. CTE curricula therefore strive to emphasize the connections between core academic content and specific technical skills needed for employment or continued education.
The principles that underlie the concept of CTE have long been at play in policymaking, including here in Colorado. For instance, 2008’s Senate Bill 08-212, also known as Colorado’s Achievement Plan for Kids, sought to create a system of public education standards that would better reflect the need for continuity between all levels of public education as well as between secondary education and whichever path a student elected to embark on after graduation. When it comes CTE programs specifically, Colorado law mandates that such educational pathways must include some exposure to realistic or hands-on experiences that relate directly to the students’ respective CTE Program of Study, which can be in any number of fields ranging from agriculture, to healthcare, to information technology. It’s additionally worth noting that CTE programs have continued to garner legislative attention in Colorado, with a recent law to allow for additional funding for the maintenance and creation of CTE program infrastructure receiving bipartisan support.
Career and technical training remains a topic of national conversation chiefly because a number of high skill, well-paying jobs to the tune of several million remains unfilled. Furthermore, mounting higher education debt may be leading many to reconsider the financial sensibleness of some college degrees. The ExcelinEd study aims to evaluate state level alignments between the supply of industry-recognized workplace readiness credentials and the demand for these on the job market. The big takeaway is that in none of the states that provide sufficient data on granted workplace credentials does the supply demonstrate a high alignment with demand.
The first important area of incongruence pertains to the type of credential that CTE programs offer. While occupational licenses carry the highest weight on the nob market they account for only one percent of credentials earned nationally, and in only one state (New Jersey) does this percentage reach ten points. Nationally, certifications account for the highest portion of credentials granted (43%).
Secondly, the study analyzed specific credentials and found that over half of the most commonly awarded ones are heavily oversupplied. In fact, some states offer workplace credentials that amount to little more than pieces of paper: for instance, the Virginia Workplace Readiness Skills for the Commonwealth program offers a certificate of general career readiness that does not directly correspond to any demand among employers. On the other hand, the study found that many of the top demanded certifications that can be provided at the secondary level are undersupplied; these include Certified Medical Assistant, AWS Certified Welder, and Cisco Certified Network Associate, among others.
Colorado has not yet released sufficient licensing and certification data for it to be represented in this specific study, but information concerning the state’s labor market and its demand for specific industry credentials can be found on credentialsmatter.org, a website designed to accompany the ExcelinEd study. Additionally, from the website we can glean that Colorado boasts a higher number of CTE students as a percentage of high school students than any of the neighboring states, meaning that this field of K-12 and postsecondary education is especially worthy of attention.