Expanding and sustaining CTE programs

Rigorous career technical education programming that gives students the knowledge and skills they need to prepare for high-wage, in-demand jobs, along with strong pathways to obtain those positions, are more critical than ever, according to a pair of reports released Oct. 27 by Chiefs for Change.

Leaders of the bipartisan network of state and district education leaders said the pandemic has dramatically impacted the lives of  students and families — as well as local and regional economies — pushing many students to rethink their plans for the future.

“It has forced large numbers of students to rethink their plans for life after school,” Chiefs for Change Board Chair and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement. “Many are now working to help support their families, and, in these uncertain times, some young people cannot or are reluctant to take out college loans, not knowing if they will be able to complete their studies or whether a degree will lead to financial security. In addition, COVID-19 has spurred major changes in the labor market. It is all the more important to give students flexible pathways to good jobs in today’s world.”

CTE prepares students for in-demand careers by providing hands-on learning experiences, building up skills and foundational knowledge they’ll need to pursue careers in nursing, agriculture, construction, firefighting, education, manufacturing, robotics, information technology and more. Once considered a remedial path for students who were not college ready, CTE has grown significantly as the need for qualified employees in jobs that require education beyond high school but less than a bachelor’s degree continue to expand.

LEAs need support from state, outside organizations

Developing integrated, seamless pathways is a complex endeavor that largely falls on local educational agencies and the postsecondary institutions and industry partners they work with, but state policymakers play a vital role in ensuring that systems, policies and fundings streams are aligned to support this work.

The first report, “The Role of State Governance in Supporting Learner Pathways,” outlines how states can establish a shared goal for CTE pathway outcomes by establishing a governance structure to bring together partners from across K-12, postsecondary and the workforce to develop a metric for success.

Among the recommendations, state leaders should:

  • Establish and codify a governance structure to convene cross-sector, cross-system partners to develop a strategic plan, determine success metrics and integrate funding in support of the state’s long-term goal for pathways.
  • Ensure all relevant partners are included in the strategic planning and execution of work toward meeting this goal, including relevant government agencies, representation from state and regional employers, and more.
  • Engage in a comprehensive and transparent communications campaign to ensure that students, families, employers, community-based organizations and others clearly understand the opportunities available and how they can benefit from them.
  • Track and regularly report progress and results toward the shared goal and underlying success metrics.

The second report, “Education-to-Workforce Learner Pathways: How Intermediary Organizations Can Support and Help Sustain Effective Partnerships,” outlines the role intermediary organizations can take in connecting K-12 schools, colleges and universities, employers and workforce development agencies. An intermediary organization in this case is an “external partner that can help to catalyze and sustain relationships across relevant entities. With solid local partnerships and deep industry expertise, an intermediary supports the creation of learner pathways that allow students to explore their postsecondary options during their K–12 experience,” according to authors of the report.

There are several steps an effective state or local intermediary can take to respond to community needs, provide critical support and build sustainable career pathways for students. First, policies must be stablished that promote intermediary organizations and protocols for engaging with them.

Other recommendations include:

  • Identifying federal and state funding opportunities across partner agencies that can be braided to maximize engagement and achieve desired outcomes.
  • Removing barriers determined to be inhibiting intermediary organizations from expanding education-to-workforce opportunities for students.
  • Developing program-quality indicators for intermediary organizations tied to state reporting metrics.
  • Regularly engaging with intermediary organizations to determine their impact and identify any policy or program adjustments that are needed to better support intermediaries.