The Importance and Relevance of CTE

Career Technical Education makes learning relevant. Lets put America to work.

Posted Mar 04, 2015

 Seattle Public Schools
Source: Credit: Seattle Public Schools

Career Technical Education (CTE) makes education relevant and important.  One goal for CTE is to put individual students to work to achieve success defined in a number of ways, including earnings and quality of life.  A second goal is to provide the skilled labor force to enable America to maintain its place in the world economy.

According to the Association for Career and Technical Education, CTE programs currently serve more than 14 million students in 26,000 public high schools,10,000 private secondary schools and 1,200 two-year community and technical colleges nationwide (U.S. Dept. of Ed.)  At its core, the career technical education mission is to prepare students for high-skill, high-demand careers. Dual and concurrent enrollment courses and programs, certificates and or AA degrees flow together, creating pathways to employment, BA degrees and more. Pathway CTE programs are increasingly effective in helping to put America to work.

In its initiative, Putting America to Work, the American Association of Community Colleges recognizes that if our country is going to maintain its economic competitiveness in the global marketplace, America needs to address the talent shortage and skill gaps of our current workforce.  Through CTE, community colleges are the proven solution to help American industry fill those gaps. Workforce training is personal, enabling one student at a time to find his or her way. However, those of us in education who are developing diverse ways to move through multiple pathways to employment are working together to offer people in many circumstances customizable options to fit their individual situations. Because all learning takes place one student at a time, offering more choices offers more opportunity to many.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 17.7 million Americans are still unemployed or underemployed and could benefit from completing an up to date CTE program.  In Putting America to Work we look at educational pathways and partnerships that help students make that transition from the classroom to the workforce.  Successful transition requires that the education our students receive is relevant to the job market, in sync with global economic forecasts and contribute our economy.  It is vital for graduates earning certificates or degrees to obtain the preparation that will lead them to employment in those economic sectors with researched, valid predicted growth. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce identifies that today there are 16 National Career Clusters that provide relevant content and contexts for learning. 

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the sixteen occupational clusters are:  Agriculture, Architecture and Construction, Arts, Audio/Video Technology and Communication, Business Management and Administration, Education and Training, Finance, Government and Public Administration, Health Science, Hospitality and Tourism, Human Services, Information Technology, Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security, Manufacturing, Marketing, Sales and Service, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Transportation, Distribution and Logistics.  These pathways provide academic, technical and employment skills designed to help students bridge the skills and opportunity gap and lead to employment.  We must carefully prepare our students to utilize their skills, talents and creativity in industry, to lead our nation and to ensure that we stay globally competitive.

CTE programs that offer students content-rich programs containing both academics and hands-on skills, can prepare students to take on jobs for the 21st century and give them a solid foundation on which to build. American industries are telling us what they need. They require a steady flow of talent that is trained and ready to maintain operations, with the flexibility to change and grow throughout the 21st century. High school and community college pathways will provide students with the relevant tools and opportunity to participate in our economy by making them eligible for hire by businesses and enabling them to be productive members of society.

 Seattle Public Schools
Source: Credit: Seattle Public Schools

Twenty-first century trends include:

Pathways.  Developing pathways from high school into community and technical colleges, into employment and/or on to traditional four-year colleges and universities is a national imperative. Two examples of pathways programs are the Police Orientation Preparation Program (POPP) that is a partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Los Angeles Community College District and the L.A.P.D., guaranteeing employment.  Another example is the Exotic Animal Management Program (EATM) at Moorpark College in the Ventura Community College District where the success rate is near one-hundred percent. There are many other examples.

Dual and concurrent enrollment programs.  These programs are now growing and being supported through emerging legislation nationwide. They accelerate learning and completion; improve retention, facilitating understanding and communication between schools, industry and their communities. They help students succeed because they provide fast-track, relevant educational goals through certification or diplomas that lead directly to employment or to transfer into four-year colleges.

Blended and distance learning.  These courses and programs allow for more flexible schedules so that students can work while they pursue their programs and maximize their opportunities. They take advantage of advancing technology and new knowledge about alternative learning options.

Apprenticeships and internships.  Working, taking courses and participating in volunteer and paid apprenticeships, internships and cooperative education programs that combine school and work experience.  This follows the scholar-practitioner model that allows students to apply their new knowledge in practical ways that reinforce what they have learned and prepares them to seamlessly transition into the workforce.

Twenty-first century opportunities demand new thinking and require understanding. Flexibility empowers our students by allowing them to work to earn money to pay for school. This means we have to develop a more modern acceptance of diversity and flexibility in time, technology, access and opportunity. Time to earn more money to pay for necessary education requires flexibility from colleges, employers and the community.

We must unlock opportunity for those who are locked out of our economy, handicapped by joblessness, poverty and feelings of frustration and hopelessness.  Flexibility in the ways we offer education empowers the disenfranchised to work toward achievable educational goals to overcome a life limited by economic struggle. Community Colleges and businesses have a critical role to play in improving people's employment opportunities. Preparing students for the 21st century workforce is not easy and can only be done by working together.  Through partnerships and regional collaborations with businesses nationwide we can provide both industry and students with transformative educational experiences that will “Put Americans to Work.”


Dr. Jamillah Moore is Chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District in California. Dr. Moore has held a number of positions, including state level service as Senior Vice-Chancellor for Governmental and External Relations for the California Community Colleges and as a staff member and consultant to the California State Senate. Send comments to:


Partnerships for 21st Century Skills:

U.S. Department of Education.  Across the United States there are 26,407 public secondary schools and 10,693 private secondary schools:  (Digest of Education Statistics, 2001, Table 89)

U.S. Department of Education.   The total 1999 fall enrollment in public secondary schools (grades 9-12) was slightly over 13,369,000 students. (Digest of Education Statistics, 2001, Table 37)