Career, technical education: Not a return to the past
To many, the phrase “vocational education” conjures images of students taking academically unchallenging courses where they build bird houses or tinker with cars.
Where vocational education was once thought of as an alternative for students wanting to work directly after high school, career and technical education (CTE), as it is called today, consists of programs that integrate technical and academic skills with work-based learning experiences to better prepare students to succeed in college and careers.
“The jobs being created today require higher skill levels than in the past,” said Pradeep Kotamraju, career and technical education bureau chief for the Iowa Department of Education. “Our global economy is driven by knowledge and innovation. Today’s CTE recognizes that shift. It is rigorous and driven by labor market demands, incorporates strong career pathways and work-based learning opportunities, and aligns with industry standards.”
This rebirth of CTE, which is creating unprecedented opportunities for students and the nation’s economy, is being recognized in February during CTE Month, a nationwide campaign held to celebrate career and technical education and the achievements and accomplishments of CTE programs across the country.
“Iowa has made great strides in the delivery of CTE education over the past three decades,” Kotamraju said. “The old approach to CTE, or vocational education as it used to be called, focused on students acquiring narrow, entry-level skills that were isolated from the rest of their educational experiences. Today, quality CTE programs integrate core academic skills, employability skills, and technical job-specific skills to prepare students to be both college and career ready.”
New legislation, House File 2392, signed into law last year, is helping shape the future of CTE across the state.
“We live in an economy that requires both academic preparation and acquisition of technical skills,” Kotamraju said. “The new focus is on making CTE integral to the larger secondary and postsecondary systems. The goal of Iowa’s secondary CTE redesign is to help students apply and extend classroom learning, provide real-world application and problem solving, and help students explore and develop critical understanding of work environments.”
In particular, the legislation ensures CTE works for students, businesses, and the economy by:
- Aligning the needs of students, employers, and the state’s economy;
- Ingraining career guidance into students’ educational experiences to help them make informed decisions about future postsecondary and career plans;
- Introducing exploratory coursework earlier to better prepare students for higher-level academic and technical training;
- Expanding student access to coordinated work-based learning opportunities; and
- Developing regional partnerships to expand student access to high quality CTE programs.
One such regional partnership is already providing students with expanded access to CTE programming. The Keokuk County Career Academy in Sigourney is a partnership between Indian Hills Community College, area high schools, and local industries to help students gain the education and skills local industries need to fill their high-skill, high-wage jobs.
“The programs offered through the academy are strongly driven by local industry needs,” said Shannon Webb, principal at Sigourney High School. “Strong industry connections are integral to the success of the academy. The regional center provides programming that picks up where our high school curriculum leaves off. Our students have access to advanced programs in high-need fields such as health science, machine technology, precision agriculture, and welding technology that we couldn’t provide on our own.”
Central Campus, part of the Des Moines Public Schools, is a model for high-quality secondary career and technical education. Its programs have a strong connection to academics, align with industry standards, and incorporate meaningful work-based experiences. Thirty-two specialized programs span nine career and technical areas.
Most recently, Central Campus added a new Skilled Trades Alliance for the 2017-18 school year. The alliance will connect students with construction industry professionals and labor organizations through work-based learning, internships and apprenticeships while enabling students to earn industry certification.
“We constantly strive to offer programs that emphasize strong career options for all students – those bound for two-year and four-year colleges as well as those interested in jobs requiring valuable credentials and certification,” said Central Campus Director Aiddy Phomvisay. “The new alliance includes a pre-apprenticeship program that connects industry-certified curriculum with integrated mathematics and provides students the opportunity to earn money in a skilled trade while earning industry certification.”
Providing students with high-quality CTE programs, such as those offered through the Keokuk Regional Center and Central Campus, is in line with the state’s Future Ready Iowa initiative, which focuses on making Iowa’s talent pipeline a more skilled workforce.
“Secondary CTE programs with clear career pathways aligned to regional needs not only help students explore opportunities, they help prepare a more skilled workforce,” Kotamraju said. “Growing quality CTE programs and expanding student access is a win-win for students and the state. Students will be prepared for quality careers and employers will have the skilled workforce they need, both of which help achieve the Future Ready Iowa goal to have 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce with education and training beyond high school by 2025.”