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How CTE prepares students for 21st century jobs

P2WAs part of SmartBrief Education’s coverage of Path to Workforce, we’ve teamed with the Association for Career and Technical Education to share CTE articles written by educators, for educators. This Q-and-A with ACTE leaders shines a light on 21st century jobs and skills in honor of national CTE Month.

February is national Career and Technical Education month. How does national recognition of CTE reflect changing views about CTE in the U.S.?

The national attention that CTE Month has gotten in recent years definitely stems from a growing understanding of the importance of CTE among policymakers, the media and the population at large. There is a growing recognition of the skills and training students need to obtain for college and career success, and that those educational opportunities are available today in CTE programs at the secondary level as well as at the postsecondary level at two- and four-year institutions. We’re also increasingly seeing business and industry leaders expressing concern about the growing skills gap -- thousands of positions that are available today that need students who have had practical experience and significant employability skills. National recognition of the importance of CTE at the secondary and postsecondary level proves that many have also begun to understand that to build an efficient CTE system, we have to provide meaningful career counseling and exploration experiences earlier in a student’s career to empower them in pursuing curriculum that will prepare them for success.

We can agree that CTE plays an essential role in preparing the next generation of workers. But what's less clear is what the next generation of workers will look like. Which careers do you think will stand out? Any predictions for new jobs?

ACTE has written a series of Sector Sheets on CTE career fields that have demonstrated a strong potential for growth, including biosciences; agriculture, food and natural resources, information technology and healthcare. Each of these offers a significant range of opportunities. For example, biosciences offers careers ranging from biomedical engineer to forensic science technician. It is hard to forecast exactly what new jobs might pop up in these fields, but any new jobs will likely involve skills that we already know are relevant, from general employability skills like research and teamwork to specialized technical skills like caring for animals, operating and monitoring medical equipment, and cybe security and data management. Fortunately, CTE prepares students to be adaptable in a changing workforce, and provides opportunities for workers to gain new skills so that they can continue their education wherever their career takes them.

"21st century skills" has become a buzz phrase. What are 21st century skills?

21st century skills are those that are relevant for the new jobs of this age. These skills can be developed within strong, innovative CTE programs at the secondary or postsecondary level, both within the classroom and through hands-on and contextualized experiences outside the classroom. As I noted before, these can be general employability skills like problem solving or critical thinking, or they can be specific, such as mastery of a certain type of computer system or agricultural technique.

What are the hallmarks of a CTE program designed for the 21st century student/workforce?

Quality CTE programs of any specialty offer students an engaging education with practical applications for their core academic skills, and allow students the chance to gain hands-on experiences outside the classroom to explore the careers available in their field of study. One hallmark of excellent programs is the establishment of articulation agreements, which connect classes at different institutions to create a comprehensive learning experience. Though these connections take different forms, one common setup allows students to take high-school classes through a local community college, which prepare them for that institution’s specific CTE program that they plan to enter. Oftentimes upon completing of the community college’s program and earning an associate’s degree or other type of certification, the student is empowered with additional options. They can use that degree in the workforce, or they can then use it as a stepping stone in a two-plus-two program to pursue a degree at a four-year college.

School leaders and educators are always looking for resources and materials. Can you highlight some free CTE resources for schools?

ACTE has a variety of great resources on our site, both for educators and for those interested in advocacy work related to these issues.

Kevin Oshinskie is project associate at ACTE. His main projects include CTE Month and the CTE Support Fund. Sean Lynch is ACTE’s legislative and public affairs manager