Career technical education has been around as long as there have been skilled trades.
In the 1950s, high school students were enrolled in “shop” or “vocational” classes that typically focused on blue-collar careers like welding, automotive repair and carpentry. In addition to these more traditional courses, today’s students are preparing for careers such as logistics, veterinary science and video production.
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While the occupations and skills may change, the need for excellent CTE programs has never been greater. Here’s why.
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1. Problem solving and critical thinking: It is a responsibility of schools to teach not only what to think but, more importantly, how to think. CTE courses are best suited to teach students how to think. It doesn’t matter if the task is programming a robot, creating a sales pitch or troubleshooting a dirty diesel engine that refuses to start – students must be able to understand logical connections, solve problems systematically and reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values. This is not only important on the job but in life.
2. Hands-on and real-world experience: On-the-job training is regularly replicated in CTE courses. Students in a culinary class, for example, are asked to review a recipe, double or triple the amount for additional customers, and then prepare and serve the meal. The opportunity for students to get out from behind their desks and put learned concepts into action is what makes CTE so appealing for these aspiring young business owners and entrepreneurs.
3. Soft skills and customer service: In a local construction class, the instructor’s motto is: “If you can’t be on time, be early.” Employers emphasize that new employees will not be successful unless they are punctual, reliable, honest and competent. The ability to be a team player with a positive attitude is also a must. These traits are encouraged and expected to a much higher degree in CTE courses because instructors often foster partnerships with local businesses and vouch for students they wish to place in jobs. The instructors’ credibility with employers is only as good as the students they provide, so in addition to the hard skills necessary for the job, a considerable amount of time is spent teaching students the importance of soft skills and customer service.
4. Career exploration: Local students have ample opportunities to explore potential careers. In Stanislaus County alone, 10 districts offer 60 different CTE courses. Many of these classes have articulation agreements with local community colleges and are approved for students planning on attending a University of California or California State University.
5. Boost for local economy: CTE programs best serve students and communities when they adapt to changing business cycles. Patterson High School created a logistics program to accommodate the large distribution companies now located on the West Side. Ceres High School listened to the needs of local businesses and developed its Advanced Manufacturing Program. Both Patterson and Ceres regularly meet with business partners to ensure that the CTE programs are providing what business and industries need. FFA chapters are located at most high schools in the area. FFA is a proven program that incorporates academics, hands-on training and leadership. Many of these students are college bound, but after graduating may return to work in local, agriculturally related businesses.
Over the past decade, more technology-driven CTE courses have emerged. Virtual business, Web and media production, and physics of electronic robots are but a few. Courses for the medical profession and public safety remain popular, as do more traditional classes like welding and wood shop.
Due to the wide variety of offerings, high school students have the chance to explore future careers, tackle complex challenges, learn to work on a team, and find success in work and life.
Scott Kuykendall is the assistant superintendent of educational options for the Stanislaus County Office of Education, overseeing apprenticeship, ROP and charter school programs as well as alternative ed, foster youth services, homeless education, teen parent programs and school attendance compliance.