CTE: Connecting Employers and the Workplace to Education

Career readiness is an explicit goal of Career and Technical Education (CTE). Research on the U.S. workforce indicates a mounting gap between worker preparation and the needs of postsecondary institutions and the workforce. Eighty percent of the respondents in a 2005 National Association of Manufacturing Skills Gap report said they were experiencing a shortage of qualified workers [1]. In the 2011 “Across the Great Divide” report sponsored by Corporate Voices for Working Families and Civic Enterprises, two thirds of small companies found difficulties in recruiting workers with the skills that were needed [2]. Of particular note is that employers address skills gaps beyond the academic knowledge and skills that have dominated the college and career readiness debate.

For example, in the 2006 “Are They Ready for Work” report, four employer-focused organizations (The Conference Board, the Partnership for 21st-Century skills, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and the Society for Human Resource Management) asked 400 employers about the skills and knowledge the skill sets that new entrants—recently hired graduates from high school, two-year colleges or technical schools, and four-year colleges—need to be successful in the work place [3]. The survey indicated that skills considered to be “applied skills” (Professionalism/Work Ethic, Teamwork/Collaboration and Oral Communications) were the top three most valued by employers.

Career and technical education programs in career centers, cooperatives and comprehensive high schools around the country are the major force behind organizing academic and skills-based curriculum into programs of study that better prepare students for careers in one of the 16 nationally identified Career Clusters [4]. These programs of study have a career emphasis, responding to the reality that postsecondary learning is required to enter many careers. Career and Technical Education programs, once thought to be just a renaming of old-school “vocational education” programs, are moving away from preparing students for low- and moderate-skilled jobs right after high school to fully embracing the larger goal of college and career readiness for all students.

Employers have consistently identified the necessary knowledge, skills and attributes that contribute to workplace success from Day One. Career and Technical Education programs have been developing detailed curriculum standards that help inculcate these expectations into CTE courses. These curriculum standards typically indicate relevant applied academic skills, career specific technical skills, and in many cases, more generalized “employability” skills. An example of this is the Employability Skills Technical Content Standards that were adopted by the Ohio Department of Education in fall 2010. The system has 13 competencies ranging from Business Readiness Skills, College and Career Preparation, Customer Service, Entrepreneurial Concepts, Legal Practices and Ethical Aspects of Work, Problem Solving and Critical Thinking, and Social and Emotional Intelligence [5]. The explicit attention within CTE to the knowledge and skills needed in the workplace is proving to be a valuable complement to what has traditionally been perceived as focus on academic content knowledge in state standards.

Thus, CTE can be a vital component of an implementation strategy to help students achieve the Common Core and career readiness.

Hans K. Meeder is President of the Meeder Consulting Group, LLC, and has previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Education in the U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Matt Fleck is a consultant with Meeder Consulting Group and former Director of Indiana State CTE.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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