Volume 32, No. 4: The Evolving Educational Landscape

Shifting Focus to Increase Students’ Opportunities for Success in the Workplace

Jill Ranucci, Ph.D., CTE Consultant, Leander, Texas

A shift in focus, bridging gaps in instructional gains, equity for all students, and the high demand for knowledgeable and skilled graduates are challenges educational institutions are confronting across the country. Changing high school graduation requirements that include more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to fit our nation’s agenda in developing a technologically competent workforce affect our electives and integration of STEM into our career and technical education (CTE) pathways. Fortunately, this effort increases students’ future opportunities to thrive in high-demand, high-skill, and high-wage occupations. One shudders to think what would happen (to our students) if we did not offer CTE pathways that focus on 21st‐century skills initiatives and educate and train our students to be tomorrow’s workforce. The CTE model based on rigor, relevance, and relationships embodies the essential elements needed for 21st‐century learning (i.e., skills in cultural competence, global awareness, communication, digital age literacy and technology, data analysis, scientific inquiry, leadership, problem-solving, self‐direction, teamwork, and computational thinking). When this type of framework is integrated into CTE courses and pathways, the results are exceptional. In today’s market, educational institutions need to find resources to support extraordinary CTE programs that continue to provide students the opportunity to gain career, college, or military readiness (CCMR) skills to be successful beyond high school.

Many greater Austin (TX) schools have adjusted their CTE offerings to meet the needs of the growing economy in the area. The greater Austin sector is diverse and offers highly desirable employment for its residents. Industry demands span from advanced manufacturing and technology-related fields to all of the skilled trades. Millions of dollars are invested in creating relevant hands-on experiences for students, thereby giving students the opportunity to gain marketable certifications for future employment. Program areas such as engineering, information technology, health sciences, veterinary sciences, and manufacturing offer state-endorsed certifications that exemplify students’ mastery of knowledge and skills that are needed for students to be competitive for high-wage, in-demand jobs. New or renovated spaces have the capacity for growth and can serve as resources for students to experience and master skills that will be needed in tomorrow’s technological workforce.

The state of Texas (like many other states) is reviewing industry certifications to identify those that can both fill gaps in industries’ needs and offer students high-wage employment. Vetting of these certifications has garnered public as well as stakeholder support. The effort to fulfill the market demand locally and globally has come from the federal level with the acceptance of Perkins V, and states have developed plans to target their specific areas of growth and commerce. In addition, CTE courses offered at the secondary level must be challenging, rigorous, and relevant to provide opportunities to all students. Several advantages to offering CTE courses include dual-credit opportunities (leading to enrollment in both two‐ and four‐year colleges), guaranteed and viable curricula, industry standard skills, and postsecondary recognition (college entrance). Advisory boards, postsecondary partnerships, and industry partnerships have been a vital asset in articulating secondary credit to our two‐ and four‐year institutions and providing internship experiences for our students. Furthermore, CTE students are rewarded with credit for taking “elective” science or math credits at the secondary level.

Strategically, it is essential to include all stakeholders when bonding and building facilities to support CTE instruction—from educators to architects to the team that commits to the actual building of the facility. Communication is vital. Bridging gaps through opportunities that become a “win-win” for school districts and surrounding industry is only effective if all parties are involved. It does take a community to offer endless opportunities to all students!

For more information, contact jillranucci13@gmail.com.