In modern schools, vocational instruction — now career and technical education, or CTE — often takes students beyond the oil-stained floor beneath an automotive hoist or a shower of sparks in a welding lab.
Today’s automotive repair classes likely use computers to quickly diagnose problems in vehicles that are fully loaded with cameras, monitors and other technology drivers expect. With augmented reality, students can master the skills of welding through simulations before they really let the sparks fly. Even students studying culinary arts need experience using digital point-of-sale systems.
There is a renewed focus on CTE amid broader debates about the value of college and the student debt crisis as well as the need for viable post-secondary alternatives. It makes sense. In most states — 35 of them — manufacturing remains the top industry for workers without a bachelor’s degree, according to the most recent statistics from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Another plus: High-quality CTE helps with student engagement and retention. Research suggests students are more likely to continue their education when they know they already have a head start. Also, globalization and the growing integration of technology into everyday jobs require skills building in students as well as greater investment in CTE.
But for cash-strapped schools, it can be a challenge to find funds needed to acquire industry-specific technology and provide the practical work experience students need.
Demand for Post-Secondary Options Drives CTE Investment
With the reauthorization last year of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the federal government provides almost $1.3 billion a year for CTE through the U.S. Department of Education, supporting instruction for elementary and secondary students as well as adults.
The Education Department’s Pathways to STEM Apprenticeship program is another example of a broader interest in CTE. The department awarded a share of $3 million to six states to improve high school CTE students’ access to post-secondary education and STEM careers. The grantees’ plans for the funds include offering students paid work experience with local employers and developing partnerships between school districts and local colleges to better align instruction. The Rhode Island Department of Education, for example, announced plans to use its $500,000 grant to launch an internship program to place students in cybersecurity and data analysis apprenticeships.
Some private foundations also offer grants to support STEM instruction and programs.
There also are nonmonetary resources for boosting CTE offerings for students. The nonprofit Project Lead the Way develops STEM curricula. The global nonprofit organization AVID ( Advancement Via Individual Determination) provides professional development and other resources as a way to narrow the achievement gap and offers digital teaching and learning integration to ensure technology is used effectively in the classroom.
Developing an incubator program is another way to encourage students to be entrepreneurs, to strengthen soft skills, stoke collaboration, foster innovation and discover practical applications for STEM instruction.
These efforts, along with significant investments in CTE, enable students to enter college better prepared or graduate with technical skills that can offer solid footing for a viable career.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.