In short, CTE stands for career and technical education, formerly known as vocational education. Rooted as far back as Greek and Roman apprenticeship programs, vocational education has been founded in learning by doing through real-world projects and work-based experiences. In the United States, the absence of formal educational systems from the revolutionary war through the industrial era led to vocational training as an avenue for men and woman to learn skills needed to become self-sufficient and to secure employment.
However, the CTE of today has morphed into a vision of cutting-edge, rigorous, and relevant career and technical education programs that provide opportunities for students to explore and prepare for careers after high school. Curriculums aid students in identifying career pathways that lend to industry certifications, technical degrees, military, and college degree programs. Initial North Dakota high school CTE programs included agriculture education, automotive technology, business education, construction, family and consumer sciences, health sciences, information technology, marketing education, manufacturing, and welding. West Fargo has witnessed the need for even more relevant curriculums, expanding CTE career pathways to aviation and diesel technology, biomedical sciences, teaching education, information technology, and recreational engines.
According to statistics from the Association for Career and Technical Education, CTE works for students; studies show that high school students involved in CTE are more engaged, perform better, and graduate at higher rates. CTE works for college; it prepares high school students to transition to college and prepares them for in-demand careers. CTE works for the economy; it yields big returns for state economies, growing work-ready and technically trained workers. CTE works for business; it addresses the needs of high-growth industries and helps close the skills gap between what is needed and what is available in the employment pool.
What does West Fargo do to say relevant:
Relevance is a key factor for students, as it provides purpose and the context for learning. The career context of CTE relates knowledge and skills to everyday applications, like managing a store, building a house, teaching a class, trouble-shooting a car, 3D design and printing, or becoming a certified nursing assistant. When students can see the connection to the world and their life, it sparks an inner motivation and engagement in thinking. CTE courses are grounded in real-world projects and career-based content that amplify relevance, and ultimately, learning.
In West Fargo, career education begins in elementary school, where counselors facilitate activities to help young learners discover themselves, their interests, and learn about jobs. At the middle school level, counselors expand on career awareness as students explore the sixteen career clusters, complete interest inventories, and launch into lab activities in FACS, technology and engineering graphics visual arts and STEM. All eighth-grade students complete a four-year high school plan to set the stage for their transition from middle school to high school.
Entering the high school, students can choose from over 70 courses in twelve CTE career pathways, providing opportunities for a deep dive into CTE content, project-based activities, problem-solving, teamwork, and student leadership. When students have the choice to study in an area of passion or curiosity, learning becomes relevant! Add a capstone project, dual credit, an industry certification, or work experience and you have one motivated learner.
Bi-annually, CTE teachers convene with program advisory committees and district leaders to garner input on career pathways and course offerings. Input includes workforce needs, essential technical skills, technology shifts, post-secondary alignment, dual credit, work experience options, and industry certifications. These important conversations contribute to curriculum revisions or course changes to ensure relevant career pathways for West Fargo learners. Students and families can investigate the 2021 – 2022 CTE course options by reviewing the district’s high school program of studies online.
For CTE, leadership development is another strategy for infusing relevance in learning. Career and technical student organizations (CTSO) are co-curricular clubs that inspire students to apply learning from the classroom to leadership outside of school. CTSOs are aligned to CTE program areas, and in West Fargo, students have the option to enroll in DECA, FCCLA, FBLA, HOSA, SkillsUSA, TSA, and Educator Rising. Each organization provides unique opportunities for students to participate in leadership training, state conferences, community service projects, and state and national competitive events. Students are challenged to expand their skills in public speaking, teamwork, and managing their student organization, which prepares them for leadership roles beyond high school.
In a 2017 study, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found “the business community has a vested interested in providing meaningful experiences for student that better connect education with the workforce.” West Fargo CTE teachers work closely with business partners to create connections from the classroom to industry. We are grateful for our business volunteers that serve as guest speakers, companies that host field trips and job shadows, and those willing to hire high school students for extended work experiences.
There is the old adage, “It takes a village.” This is nothing short of the truth, when it comes designing relevant CTE programs, curriculums, and experiences to prepare our high school learners for future careers, work, college programs, the military, and life! Keeping CTE relevant involves numerous individuals to achieve our district mission of educating today’s learner’s for tomorrow’s world.
As we wrap February’s National Career & Technical Education Month campaign, I would like to express my gratitude for the outstanding CTE educators, counselors, advisory committee members, college partners and school leaders that inspire, implement, and reinvent CTE to keep it relevant for today’s learners in West Fargo Public Schools. Ultimately, it is our highly qualified CTE teachers, business partnerships and two-year and four-year colleges that contribute to the success of CTE. Working together, we are creating career pathways for students to make the most of their high school experience and giving them a jumpstart on their future career goals.
Jonas is the director for the Cass County Career and Technical Education Center.