July | August 2017

by Kate Blosveren Kreamer
It has almost become cliché to say it is an exciting time for career technical education, also known as CTE, but only because it continues to be true.
Interest and support for career technical education has grown exponentially over the past few years, with policymakers at all levels working to advance opportunities for students to engage in CTE, as well as strengthen the links between career technical education and the labor market.
Just a few examples:
Those of us in the career technical education community have long understood its value in preparing individuals with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. And, as times have changed, so have we. CTE must continually evolve to better align to the shifting demands of our economy, employers and students. This can best be demonstrated by the evolution from “vocational education” to “career technical education.”
This is not just a name change or a rebranding effort, but rather a true transformation of the field. While vocational education was primarily focused on preparing a subset of students for jobs right out of high school, the scope of career technical education is very broad and allows for and encourages a variety of pathways for students. Today, CTE reaches across K–12 education into postsecondary education and workforce training. It covers everything from early career exploration to highly technical training and encompasses the full world of work, including all sectors and professions. In short, career technical education is any education that is anchored in the goal of preparing students for success in the careers of their choice.
What does this look like in practice? While there are many models of high-quality CTE, there are some common elements that all successful programs of study have, including:
While career technical education is very much in the spotlight these days, STEM—or science, technology, engineering and mathematics—remains a top priority for many states and state leaders. CTE and STEM often are kept separate at both the policy and programmatic levels, when in fact they have much in common. High-quality CTE programs of study go a long way in preparing students for careers in the STEM fields, defined broadly as everything from engineering and manufacturing to agricultural sciences and telecommunications.
Perhaps even more importantly, career technical education can help students master the STEM skills and competencies that have value in just about any career, such as inquiry, problem solving and creativity. While there is clear labor market demand for workers in STEM jobs, the demand for STEM skills is even more comprehensive with upwards of 26 million U.S. jobs requiring a high level of knowledge in any one STEM field, according to a 2012 report by the Brookings Institution. By considering STEM as preparation for a variety of careers—and not just limited to the traditionally defined STEM jobs—the strategy of leveraging CTE to deliver STEM education simply makes sense.
Future of CTE Summit
There’s little question that we are in the middle of a truly transformative moment. Yet for career technical education to continue to attract attention and support from the broader education and policy community—and meet its inherent goal of preparing students for the careers of their choice—we must all commit to developing, promoting and sustaining only programs and policies that are of the highest quality and continue to push the field forward.
That’s why nine national organizations have joined together to create an updated vision for CTE. This October, the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, The Council of State Governments, Association for Career and Technical Education, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges, National Governors Association, National Skills Coalition and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation will co-host The Future of CTE Summit.
This three-day, interactive summit will allow the invited state and national leaders representing CTE, education, workforce development, business and industry, and the philanthropic community to brainstorm and begin to lay out where career technical education needs to go to meet its full promise. This collaborative effort will culminate in the release of a new Vision for the Future of CTE in spring 2016.

About the Author

Kate Blosveren Kreamer is Associate Executive Director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) where she leads policy and communications efforts to ensure all students have access to high-quality CTE.