As many people who work in Career Technical Education (CTE) know, the whole idea behind this field is to take a pragmatic approach to education in order to train students for in-demand jobs. Everything is geared toward giving these trainees the real skills they’ll need for gainful employment, which means long-term careers that pay well and are personally fulfilling.
In this way, it’s important that instructors and CTE-program administrators focus their efforts on providing the keys to this type of long-term success (as opposed to a shorter-term success of simply finding a job) throughout the entire training and education process.
So, let’s look at 4 important steps for helping your CTE students achieve truly rewarding and lasting careers.
1. Give CTE students the full picture.
From the very beginning, it’s crucial to lay out all the options for your students. This is something that’s easy for CTE educators and administrators — and really, anyone who already is in the workforce — to take for granted. We’ve been around and we’ve seen what’s out there. But just think back to when you yourself were a student. Think of all the jobs you didn’t even realize existed when you were in school.
If students think they have limited options, they’re going to choose the best path from among those limited options. But that doesn’t mean they’re choosing the best overall path for themselves, the career that truly excites them.
By giving CTE students all the available options, they’re more likely to find something that they really want to do. And when you’re really happy in your career, you perform better, which allows you to have more success at it and to stay in it for many more years and likely for the duration of your career.
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2. Show CTE students a very, very clear pathway.
Knowing which goal to strive for is only the first step of the process. One of the main reasons that students fall short is that they’re unclear about how to achieve the goals they’ve set out to accomplish.
That’s why it’s so important that you, as a CTE educator or administrator, make it very clear to your students what they need to do to earn the career they’ve chosen.
Being specific about each step of the training process is critical. You need to lay out all of the skills that the student will need, and then make sure the student is able to follow her or his own progress toward the goal. Showing a detailed pathway to the student, from the specific skills to how all of those skills fit together in the big picture, really empowers the student to take accountability and stay motivated to succeed along the way.
3. Pay attention to technical competencies.
Once the CTE student knows the details of the “game plan,” so to speak, it’s important for you as a CTE teacher or administrator to pay close attention to the technical competencies mentioned earlier.
Specifically, if you can track the student’s progress at developing the necessary skills for the chosen career, then you can measure that progress at each skill. When you — and the student — have a solid understanding of the student’s technical competencies (strengths and weaknesses), you’re better able to help the student become proficient at completing the requisite industry certifications. Obviously, then, the student will be better able to obtain gainful employment in the chosen field of work.
4. Engage with local employers.
Beyond the training itself, it’s important that your CTE program engages with local employers. Just like with laying out the available career options (Step 1), this is something that often is very easy for you as a CTE educators and administrators to take for granted.
You’ve been in the workforce. Not only do you know how to do your job, you know how to approach “jobs” in general. You know, for example, how the application process works, how to behave professionally at all times in the workplace, and the importance of getting good references.
But guess what: your students may not know all of these things, at least not to the extent that you understand them.
That’s why it’s important for your CTE program to connect with local employers, build a relationship with them, and closely follow your students’ progress. If a student isn’t grasping some aspect of the skills it takes, in addition to the technical skills, just to “be an employee,” then having a solid working relationship with the employers in your area will come in handy for finding out if and how the CTE completer is struggling, and helping to correct it.
The importance of this step is hard to overestimate. If Step 2 above is all about showing students their individual pathways, you can think of this step as “keeping them on the pathway.” It’s not a coincidence that there are rules in place regarding post-graduate placement and following up with CTE completers six months, one year, three years, and five years after graduation. Putting in the work to follow up with CTE completers down the road is how you really achieve what you set out to do in the first place — to help CTE students achieve long-term success.
Fortunately, Harris School Solutions’ own CTE-specific software, ClassMate, can help your program with all of these steps.