The Benefits of Career and Technical Education Programs

There’s a long-standing stigma around vocational technology programs. It began in the 1970s when white collar jobs began to be seen as more important than factory work and manufacturing. Suddenly, working with your hands wasn’t as admirable as working with your brain. Tech and manufacturing jobs got shipped overseas and the educational system began to focus on academic measures of success. 

But the tide is beginning to shift. Many states are now focused on preparing students for life after high school—that includes for both college and careers. Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are expanding to include a broad range of subjects from media arts to health care. And the statistics show the focus on helping students be successful on whatever path they chose has so far been successful. Check out some of the many benefits to CTE programs. 

Benefits to Students

Career and technical education increases student engagement .  Students in technical programs engage frequently in problem solving and hands-on learning. These types of activities let students apply their knowledge rather than being passive learners.

Career and Technical Education also allows students to interact with members of the community. Very often, CTE programs include mentorship, internship, and hands-on application of skills at local businesses. Students can meet people in an industry that they’re interested in and see what life is like doing that job outside of school. In addition, the business people in the community who sponsor and work with CTE programs may potentially employ students after graduation.

Research has shown that CTE programs have been especially beneficial to the students who are considered at-risk, disadvantaged, or have disabilities . CTE programs benefit students looking for careers right out of high school. Students who struggle in traditional academically-focused programs aren’t necessarily looking to go to school for another four (or more) years before working. In fact, a study done in Wisconsin shows that 81% of dropouts surveyed would have stayed in high school if they’d have had relevant, real-world learning opportunities. Students concentrating in CTE programs have a 93% high school graduation rate compared to the national average of 80%. What’s more, is that participating in CTE doesn’t exclude college for students; more than 91% of CTE students pursued postsecondary education after high school.

Benefits to the Economy

Career and technical education help students find work that they’re highly qualified for. Across the country, CTE programs have shown big benefits to states’ economies . In Wisconsin, taxpayers receive over twelve dollars in benefits for every one dollar invested in technical education. In Washington, taxpayers receive nine dollars in benefits on the dollar spent.

In conjunction with the direct taxpayer benefits, CTE helps to fill the job growth needs in booming industries. In the US, skilled trades are the hardest jobs to fill . There are over 1 million openings in trade, transportation, and utilities. Healthcare jobs that require an associate’s degree or less make up 12 of the 20 fastest growing jobs sectors. Students who receive CTE in these areas can get to work right away. Between the education they received at school and the on-the-job training that businesses provide, students who participate in CTE programs are helping to close the skills gap fill jobs in high-needs industries. 

Benefits to Furthering STEM in the US

While many schools are scrambling to operationalize the STEM concepts, those that already offer high-quality career and technical education are ahead of the curve. While there is a shortage of workers in stem fields, there is also a gap in workers having basic stem knowledge and skills. A report done in 2011 says that 20% of all jobs in the US require a high level of knowledge in any one of the STEM fields. However, only half of these jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, an effective CTE program can help our students find high-paying jobs in STEM fields. One of the most important ways CTE includes STEM competencies is through the use of technology. Students in CTE programs learn software programs from AutoCAD to Photoshop; they also work with hardware like fabrication tools and x-ray machines.

The new focus on CTE is leading schools to create programs that are both hands-on and academically rigorous. CTE is not a dumping ground for students who don’t want to go to college, instead, it’s a launching point that allows students to follow whatever path is right for them.

Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children's fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.

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