Celebrating Career and Technical Education

Posted By: Jeannine Kunz, Vice President, Tooling U-SME on February 28, 2018

CTE Month ends today, and we couldn’t let February close without acknowledging the significant contributions of Career and Technical Education programs in high schools across the country. From simulated workplaces to industry partnerships, CTE programs focused on manufacturing are an invaluable resource for local communities. These programs provide students with excellent technical and career-ready training to prepare them for jobs with advanced manufacturing companies that so greatly need a fresh pipeline of highly skilled workers.

Celebrating Career and Technical Education

According to the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the organization that created CTE Month, CTE serves 94 percent of all high school students. More than 7.5 million secondary students took at least one unit of CTE credit. ACTE suggests that high school students involved in CTE are more engaged, perform better and graduate at higher rates.

CTE has a long history in the U.S. While this center of learning produces some of the best and brightest talent equipped with skills demanded by the labor market, many high school programs face financial challenges that threaten their very existence. Continued budget cuts make it difficult for schools to invest in up-to-date curriculum, equipment and technology, and this lack of funding impacts a school’s ability to develop the next generation of workers.

However, many high school CTE programs won’t be left behind and are taking matters into their own hands, implementing business strategies to sustain and grow. Progressive CTE programs thrive because they align externally with industry, and internally with others in the school network. While some schools try to remain relevant, the most sustainable CTE programs turn to business practices for success.

We recommend these five steps to get started with the internal community:

1. Create a strategy that aligns with central administration goals. It’s important to create a five-year education and growth strategy for the advanced manufacturing career cluster within the CTE program.

2. Build champions. While it’s critical to engage the ultimate decision-maker — such as an administrator or board of education — in development of goals and strategy, think more broadly. How can other teachers and counselors collaborate and contribute?

3. Create an annual business plan. CTE program instructors should explain their business to administrators as if pitching an investor. A business plan helps tell a compelling and succinct story.

4. Make a business case for funding. CTE teams should be prepared to defend their budget, whether covering personnel, professional development, equipment, online training, technical certifications or supplies. If asking for a budget increase, they should clearly explain why.

5. Showcase student success and opportunities. The best way to get students into seats is to demonstrate the result of their time in the CTE program. It’s important that students and their parents see how CTE will launch students on a career path, providing opportunities for students to gain credentials and certifications tied to their specific skill set leading to employment.

Successful CTE programs focused on manufacturing need to align externally with the industry/local community and internally with their school community.

Many CTE programs across the country related to manufacturing fields, such as CNC Machining and Welding, are burdened with outdated curriculum and technology. To ensure students are prepared to work at modern manufacturing facilities, it is important for industry and education to work together to bring industry-relevant knowledge and skills to the classroom.

Organizations such as the SME Education Foundation are valuable partners as schools consider the best ways to strengthen programs that provide pathways to rewarding careers in manufacturing. These groups can share experience from interactions with networks of programs across the country and ensure schools avoid reinventing the wheel. For instance, SME Education Foundation’s Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME®) provides opportunities for students to develop industry-relevant knowledge and advanced manufacturing skills before they graduate from high school.

To engage the external community, we recommend the following six tips for effective outreach:

1. Reach out to industry representatives. Open a conversation with local manufacturers about the knowledge and skills they need for their businesses to grow. What is the market need? Take the feedback and integrate it into a practical curriculum with practical hands-on skills.

2. Standardize training. Often CTE programs are built around an instructor’s expertise versus what is needed by industry. Recently, more programs are looking at standardization of content and a framework built on competencies.

3. Welcome the local community. Rather than approaching a company or community leader with an open hand, asking for money, a warm invitation to get involved with the program can be a better introduction.

4. Re-educate the community. Manufacturing remains a misrepresented industry. It is important to educate parents and counselors as well as students about the many rewarding and lucrative career opportunities in the field.

5. Engage students. Students are perfect ambassadors for the program. Introducing ways for them to gain valuable experience while sharing their expertise offers mutual benefits.

6. Share, share, share. Every meeting is an opportunity to share stories about students and the program, which can lead to offers of support.

By adopting a business approach, aligning externally with industry and internally with others within the school network, many Manufacturing CTE programs are successfully addressing development and funding challenges. Moving toward a more business-oriented approach is a winning strategy for all:

  • CTE programs become sustainable while launching their students into successful careers.
  • Students obtain real-life work experience, resulting in good jobs and salaries.
  • Manufacturers gain access to a solid pipeline of skilled workers that will help their businesses grow well into the future.
  • The economy strengthens from the resulting business growth.

The bottom line is that Manufacturing CTE is essential for solving the skills gap.

To learn more about innovative approaches to CTE education, download Tooling U-SME’s white paper, Making the Grade: Schools Adopt Business Approach to Develop the Next Generation of Manufacturing Workers.

Tags: "Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE)", "Career and Technical Education", "CNC Machining", "CTE Month", "high schools", manufacturing, "Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME)", "SME Education Foundation", Welding