Shining the Spotlight on CTE to Close Employability Gaps for Youth

The ever-widening disconnect between education and career readiness for young people is finally beginning to close thanks to a resurgence in Career and Technical Education (CTE).

CTE aligns high school and college education to the demands of the labor market and provides students the technical, academic and workplace knowledge and skills they need for long-term success.

The benefits of CTE to students are significant. CTE students are more likely to graduate, more likely to go to college, and better prepared for entrepreneurism or employment by closing skills gaps, especially for higher skilled, higher paying career fields. In New Mexico, 90 percent of students who concentrated in CTE pathways graduated in 2013, far higher than the statewide rate. Fully two-thirds of all future jobs will require job candidates to have some college – career certifications, associates degrees, or higher.

But the benefits reach far beyond students…business and industry, and therefore communities, benefit, too.  When employers enter the classroom to partner with CTE teachers and programs, and when businesses become real-time, real-life classrooms – through internships and apprenticeships – there are no skills gaps. In fact, employer-student engagement returns an investment in the future earning power of students, according to research in the Journal of Education and Work.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen recently recognized the importance of Career and Technical Education in her remarks on Addressing Workforce Development Challenges in Low-Income Communities at the Creating a Just Economy conference. She acknowledged the importance of offering training toward jobs that have clear paths for advancement to lift individuals out of poverty.

“Career and technical education programs, which have seen a revival in recent years, have considerable potential. These programs teach the skills needed to pursue careers in fields such as construction, manufacturing, health care, information technology, hospitality and financial services.”

This national conversation came to Doña Ana County at the 2017 Pathways to Student Success Summit.  The two-day event highlighted the power of CTE for students, educators, business leaders and community leaders to better understand the role of CTE in boosting high school graduation and college completion rates and building the skilled and ready workforce our community and state desperately need to succeed.

Keynote speaker Kevin Fleming, a rising national voice on the need to connect technical skills to academic knowledge, talked about how the “university-for-all” message has left many students underemployed and underwater in student loan debt. He, himself, faced the consequences of getting two bachelor degrees and two masters degrees, accruing $200,000 in student loan debt, and finding himself making $36,000 and unable to pay his bills. A CTE class at a community college turned everything around for him.

He has become an evangelist for the message that success for students happens at many levels of education, and he is a firm believer in the value of earning an industry credential alongside a high school diploma.

“Career and technical education provides the employability and technical skills every industry wants and proof that students can do something and do it well,” he said.

He highlighted the need to flip the order of decisions student have historically faced when they make the journey through high school and into college.  “Instead of where they want to go to school, what to major in, and what to do for a career, we need to flip the order to start with what they may want to pursue for a career choice, what education and training they need to get there, and then what school provides that training.”

He also called upon the business community to play a role, saying, “Industry professionals should be in a classroom not once a year, but once a week or once a month.  And ideally, every student should complete 50 hours in job shadowing or internships before high school graduation.”

To learn more, or see the interview with Kevin Fleming in its entirety, click on the News & Events button at the bottom of this page.