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Career and technical education isn’t only about having a variety of courses available for your students. It’s also about helping them build employability skills and connecting them to opportunities post-high school.
My youngest son is in high school and has taken Biotechnology 1 and 2. He is now in Biotechnology 3 and hopes to take the fourth course next year. You may think my son wants a career in biotech since he is taking these CTE courses, but he wants to be a lawyer. The reason he is taking all four courses is that he loves science and is learning valuable skills, including research, time management, communication and more.
His biotech teacher is also working with his AP Bio and AP Research teachers to ensure that whatever project he decides to do for Biotech can be used for all three classes. By doing this, his teachers have allowed him to make connections between these three subjects, which is a skill needed for college and the workforce.
As the senior manager of curriculum development for FlexPoint Education Cloud, my goal is to develop a variety of CTE courses that help students discover their passions, explore jobs they may have never considered and develop their technical and soft skills. After more than 25 years in the education industry and 13 years developing CTE courses, I’ve learned the importance of seeking out partnerships within the local community to ensure that students enter the workforce and are prepared to apply their knowledge to whatever career path they choose.
To help school and district leaders prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce through local partnerships, I’m sharing four ways I’ve found success.
1. Create an advisory council for your CTE program
If you already have a CTE program in your school or district, then you know they are largely funded through grants, including the Carl D. Perkins Grant. One requirement of the Perkins Grant is to have an advisory committee. This committee must consist of industry professionals, teachers, college professors (if you have articulation agreements with local colleges or universities) and curriculum developers.
The purpose of the advisory council is to help schools and districts make decisions on current and future CTE programs of study. For example, at FlexPoint, we have a CTE advisory council that meets twice a year and consists of a CTE college professor, a finance professional, a local government official, a grant administrator, an ESE teacher, literacy instructors, CTE teachers and CTE student organization sponsors, and CTE curriculum specialists. During this meeting, led by our CTE coordinator, we discuss the courses currently in development and ask for feedback. We also ask each industry professional what jobs they’re projecting, what skills they think students need that they may be lacking and what they would like to see us develop.
In addition to the advisory council, we meet with our students quarterly and ask those taking our CTE courses what they think of them and if there is anything they would change. The ideal student to ask these questions to is someone who is passionate about a specific CTE course they’re taking and isn’t afraid to ask questions and share their opinions with a group of adults.
Having an advisory council allows school and district leaders to build connections with local industry professionals to strengthen a CTE program and courses. Having a group of people you can turn to for help, advice and beyond is invaluable when preparing students for their future.
2. Attend community board meetings and events
The key to understanding your local job market and post-secondary school options starts with connecting with local businesses. For example, maybe you’re considering adding a CTE course related to software development and programming, but you’ve seen tech layoffs in your city. If you can reach out to someone in that industry to ask what job availability will look like in the future, then you’re setting your school up for success.
One way to make connections with businesses is by attending meetings of your county board and your local chamber of commerce, especially when jobs and industries are being discussed. It’s a way to gain insight into the current state of your local area and be an advocate for job growth. Through these meetings, you’ll also learn who the leaders in these areas are. I recommend networking before or after the meeting to let them know you’re interested in working together to build the next workforce.
3. Work with CTSOs
Career and technical education student organizations, or CTSOs, are an integral component of curriculum and instruction, building upon employability and career skills and concepts through the application and engagement of students in hands-on demonstrations and real-life and/or work experiences. These organizations can help students build their confidence and self-esteem by having them participate in competitive events at the local, state and national levels. Plus, these organizations provide a great way for students to get involved and network outside of the classroom with their peers and industry professionals. Students who compete at the state and national level can even win awards and college scholarships!
There are currently eight CTSOs with 2,027,880 student members combined, including:
- Business Professionals of America
- DECA (formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America)
- Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA)
- Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA)
- Future Farmers of America (FFA)
- HOSA – Future Health Professionals (formerly Health Occupations Students of America)
- Technology Student Association (TSA)
When deciding which CTSOs to partner with, first consider your students and their interests, and then consider your local employment landscape. Then, head to CTSOs.org to learn more and get started. You’ll find the leaders of each CTSO, ways to advocate for them and a calendar of events — including national conferences — that your students can participate in. For example, FFA has competitions that include horse evaluations and veterinary science. DECA has competitions that evaluate students in business management, finance, marketing and tourism through a written and interactive component. Oftentimes, industry professionals serve as judges.
4. Bring HR professionals into the classroom
Thinking back to my high school experience, something that I didn’t know much about that I would have benefited from was interviewing skills. Plus, how to develop a stand-out resume with limited experience. My recommendation to help students hone these skills is to invite human resource professionals into the classroom.
The best way to do this is to set up a mock interview day at school. Ideally, you would bring HR professionals in to create a mock interview experience for your students. If you’re unable to do this, you can have students play the role of the interviewer and practice with each other. The key is to simulate this real-life situation, allowing students to tell the interviewer a little about themselves, practice answering the tough questions and enhance their verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Providing students with the opportunity to practice interviewing is a skill they will carry with them long after they leave your classroom.
As a school or district, you likely have HR professionals on staff. Talk with them to see if they have any best practices that they think would be ideal to share, as well as some do’s and don’ts in interview situations with real-life examples. Giving examples will allow students to better understand situations they may be placed in and how to handle them. It may also bring more questions to their mind, which is great to keep them engaged.
CTE program: Preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce
My main takeaway for school and district leaders interested in strengthening a CTE program through partnerships is to build relationships — with local businesses, community organizations and families. By understanding them, their needs and the future of your community, you can take your CTE offerings to the next level.
Amy Heflin is the senior manager of curriculum development for FlexPoint Education Cloud. FlexPoint offers a free guide that outlines ways to better understand the employment landscape and tips to understand your students, their interests and goals for the future.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.