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What is Career and Technical Education (CTE)?

The educational world has been steadily progressing towards more dynamic learning practices that emphasize hands-on learning to keep students engaged and to teach them new skills. Career and Technical Education (CTE) is an important part of this evolving trend, encouraging skill development in young learners with a view to expand technical competencies and their future career prospects. Below, we look at what Career and Technical Education consists of and what it can offer students. 

What is Career and Technical Education? 

At its core, Career and Technical Education is an educational model that aims to introduce students to a range of different career paths by teaching them specific technical skills. This approach is typically implemented alongside more traditional learning frameworks, with CTE classes being offered as electives for middle and high schoolers, and even for some college students.  

It’s worth noting that CTE is rooted in vocational education, a long-running tradition that taught generations of students practical topics like home economics. CTE, however, goes beyond the vocational electives we typically think of, like computer typing and shop class. It covers a whole range of jobs and sectors that reflect today’s job market, like agriculture, business management, health sciences, IT, manufacturing, and STEM.

Ultimately, “education is more than the traditional core subjects,” says Adrienne Emerson, Education Content Manager at Sphero. “CTE Education takes a closer look at the skills needed to advance in many types of careers. With classes in engineering, auto tech, medical fields, teaching, programming, cosmetology, and many others, students can graduate high school with industry-recognized certification that allows them the choice of going straight into the workforce.” 

What are the Benefits of CTE? 

CTE programs have numerous benefits for students. By supplementing more traditional school subjects with specific career-focused skills, educators can support their students in the following ways: 

Career Option Awareness 

With traditional school courses and curriculum, many students graduate with a limited understanding of the incredibly versatile job market that awaits them. CTE shows students a broader array of post-secondary options and can put students on a direct path to a career or continued education. 

Real-world Skills 

Integrating CTE courses into school curriculum not only supplements traditional lesson plans, but it also gives students the opportunity to gain real-world skills that can transfer into their post-secondary life, whether it’s continued education or a job. Even if students don’t pursue a specific career, the soft and hard skills they acquire in CTE courses will still be valuable. 

Boosts Employability 

CTE courses can come with certifications, which can give new graduates a leg up in their job search or in their college applications. As Adrienne says: “Because these classes are tied to careers, many students get a jump start on their desired career, which in some cases eliminates the need for some or all the years of traditional college.” 

Why is CTE Important? 

Skill-based school curriculum has been around for decades, but there has been growing awareness of the CTE framework in recent years due to its relevance for today’s job market. CTE consists of 16 different curriculum clusters, each of which targets a specific employment sector, like health sciences, business management, manufacturing, etc.  

CTE therefore introduces students to potential career pathways in these fields at a younger age, helping them to figure out where their interests lie. For many, this approach is far more beneficial than figuring things out later on, particularly for those that pay high tuition costs in college. 

 “At the same time, while traditional four-year colleges are still very popular after high school, shorter tech programs in high school and post-secondary are emerging as a way to help students go into less debt, enter the workforce sooner, and learn skills and trades that are needed in our society.” 

What Are the Challenges to Implementing CTE? 

CTE programs are typically taught by professionals from a specific field. For instance, a person with a degree in mechanical engineering would be qualified to teach a CTE course in the STEM cluster, just as an accountant would be eligible to teach a finance CTE course. While this approach is great because students can learn directly from people who have and understand the skills needed for a specific career, it also presents a challenge. Namely, availability. 

As Emerson explains: “Finding educators to teach many of these subjects can be difficult. Often you need someone trained in a trade that will have to leave that trade to come into the classroom. This transition can be difficult, especially since teaching is its own trade that requires a unique skill set.” 

Another challenge of implementing CTE programs is that they can be expensive due to the need for specialized equipment and facilities. Studies have shown that high schools with a strong CTE focus tend to spend more per student, which can create hurdles for schools with fewer resources. At the same time, the investment seems to be worth it for students: graduates from CTE-focused schools tend to have higher initial earnings compared to those from traditional high schools. 

Fostering Soft and Hard Skills for the Next Generation 

Ultimately, Career and Technical Education is valuable because it gives students the opportunity for hands-on learning, skills building, and a glimpse into their future career prospects.  

Sphero’s education kits can be used to a similar end—as well as in CTE STEM courses—to inspire kids to learn both the soft and hard skills required in today’s job market and prepare them for the future. 

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