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How to re-energize CTE, from kindergarten to completion

Stoke your students’ future ambitions with real-world relevance

Educators are more motivated than ever to send graduates into the world on clear career paths. Whether students are headed to college, a vocational school or straight into the workforce, teachers and administrators are working to ensure they gain the skills, certifications, and degrees they’ll need to reach their future goals.

Setting those goals is the key place to start and start early—because career and technical education is no longer limited to high school. The most successful approaches now start in the earliest grades and form a career prep progression that leads beyond high school completion.

Elementary school

Real-world relevance. From math to ELA to computer science, teachers are now showing students how knowledge in these subjects connects to various careers.

Project-based learning. Teachers are assigning projects—such as making videos or podcasts—that teach students digital editing, public speaking, and other career skills.

Middle school

Strengthen business partnerships. As students move into middle school, educators need to connect with local businesses willing to participate in job-shadowing and career fairs that introduce children to the professions that they are—and aren’t—interested in exploring.

But why would businesses want to participate? Beyond appealing to a business owner’s sense of civic duty, administrators can make the economic case that giving students real-world experience will pay off later with a supply of more highly qualified employees.

Early certifications. Students in many districts are now earning basic certifications in topics such as coding and using popular software programs.

High school

Soft skills. Employers want workers who show up on time, can work with people of different backgrounds, and learn new skills. They want schools to teach these skills along with core academic subjects.

Career academies. While students don’t have to pick a career in 10th grade, these programs expose students to healthcare, education, STEM, and other fields. These schools-within-schools can require substantial investments, but administrators can seek grants and make that economic argument (see above) to convince local businesses to provide resources.

Develop apprenticeship programs with local industry. Students are still getting a free education in high school, right? The prospect of saving tens of thousands of dollars will entice them to take on apprenticeships where they can earn certifications while still in K-12.

Want to tell us about the innovative strategies that are bringing your students’ career aspirations into sharper focus and how you’re equipping them with the skills to make a strong start in the workforce? Please share your ideas on Facebook and Twitter.



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