Invest in Career and Technical Education

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“I wish I had taken a shop class,” I told the high school student, “As a farmer, it would have helped me a lot more than the sewing class I took instead.”

Back when I was in school, before the Age of the Dinosaurs, young women didn’t take ‘shop class’. Today, schools don’t even call it ‘shop’. And women cannot only take the classes, they teach them.

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. In honor of this month, I will be joining the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers as he visits local schools to learn how career and technical education can show students their path in life.

What many remember as “vocational education” took on a new name and an expanded role in 2006. Career and Technical Education now prepares students for the 21st century workforce.

Students pursuing Career and Technical Education can choose between 16 different “clusters” or career paths. From architecture, agriculture or the arts and communication to transportation, distribution and logistics, the 21st century workplace comes alive in the classroom.

The jobs of the 21st century are varied. The breadth of choices available to students reflects the growing diversity of skills needed in our workforce.

The jobs of tomorrow will still include agriculture and manufacturing, but new jobs include the chemistry of food processing and the engineering of alternative energy. Information technology and health care are two of the fastest growing clusters.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in health care are expected to make up 7 of the 20 fastest growing occupations. Health care and information technology can meld into one job as more hospitals and clinics become increasingly accountable.

In every job, strong work habits pave the path to a productive career. CTE Programs provide opportunities to master life skills needed to succeed: punctuality, interviewing skills, teamwork, problem solving and communication.

Students see the direct relationship between the skills they learn and the career they want to pursue. This helps troubled students stay in school. According to the National Association of Career and Technical Education Directors, students in Career and Technical Education are eight to ten times less likely to drop out of high school.

Students can gain industry certifications and sometimes even a job offer. Partnerships between the high school, technical colleges and local businesses are part of successful Career and Technical Education programs.

“The programs I visited for last year’s CTE Month Observance overwhelmingly had strong connections with the local technical college and nearby employers,” wrote State Superintendent Tony Evers in announcing February’s proclamation of Career and Technical Education month.

Funding is critical to these programs.

“Because CTE programs must be at the forefront of innovation and industry standards they can be expensive and have been hard hit by education funding cuts,” said Evers. “CTE needs a financial investment, which I’ve requested in my 2013-15 education budget.”

Last year, when schools experienced a nearly 10 percent drop in state funds, cuts fell disproportionally on Career and Technical Education. Twenty percent of the Career and Technical Education workforce has been eliminated since 2004.  Half of those cuts were made in the past year.

I remember meeting a young dynamic educator in Black River Falls High School. I was so impressed to see the work of this young teacher and her very enthusiastic students. She was one of many that lost her job.

I recently spoke at the statewide School Board Association’s annual meeting in Milwaukee. Local board members approached me after the speech and wanted to share the struggles they faced in preserving CTE programs.

“We are trying to get through,” one board member told me. “We’ve restored some positions. But we need more help.”

Superintendent Evers is working to provide that help in his budget request. It’s now up to the Governor and the Legislature to support CTE.

Growing jobs means educating our workforce. This is a public private partnership. Employers need skilled workers. Graduates need jobs. Investing in Career and Technical Education is investing in jobs for the future.

 

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