I have two young boys who believe they are superheroes. They believe they can see through walls with special glasses, they believe they can defeat bad guys with iron fists, and they believe strategically placed traps around the house will keep Mom safe when Dad is traveling. The superpowers they create in their minds are full of wonder, creativity, and imagination - and I love it because I know one day they will no longer express this fun, playful side that childhood encourages.
Unfortunately, these misconceptions of their superpowers can sometimes backfire. Our oldest son learned this the hard way when he broke his leg jumping from a pool ladder because he thought he could fly. It was at that point when his creative mind started to transform and he started to accept the fact that the way he once thought about his superpowers may not be entirely true.
I often relate these superhero misconceptions to the misconceptions that still exist around Career and Technical Education (CTE). Within the last 20 years CTE has transformed to meet the needs of modern-day students, society, and industry. Unfortunately, if people still view CTE as the way it used to be, then just like my son who got hurt as a result of his misconceptions, our students are the ones who will be hurting because they will be missing opportunities that could potentially lead them towards their desired goals and dreams.
Parents - do not allow misconceptions of CTE to prohibit your student from endless possibilities. Here are five essential facts every parent should know regarding modern-day Career and Technical Education:
Focus on Career-Ready AND College-Ready
CTE is no longer designed for students who may not be considered college-bound. In fact, a 2016 survey conducted by the Association of Career and Technical Education reported more than 88% of CTE students are planning to continue on with a post-secondary education and almost one-third of CTE students have the opportunity to earn college credits and/or industry certifications through CTE programming. As CTE students are being exposed to career-ready practices such as work-based learning opportunities, business/industry partnerships, and real-world learning experiences, they are also opening their minds to a multitude of post-secondary options that not only include a 4-year college/university, but also emphasize the benefits of a 2-year college degree, technical/trade schools, on-the-job training, apprenticeships, industry certifications, and military. Students graduate from CTE with not only the soft skills and technical skills to be college AND career-ready, but they also understand the multiple pathways they can take to reach their dreams.
Girls Can Do It Too!
Non-traditional CTE programs are identified as those connected to occupations in which individuals from one gender comprise less than 25% of the workforce. For example, CTE programs such as Welding, Robotics and Engineering typically have low female enrollment even though these are growing career pathways in which females have the opportunity to be very successful. Although the average number of females enrolled in CTE programs mirrors male enrollment, female students are underrepresented in high-wage and high-demand jobs that are non-traditional for their gender. This data-point is unfortunate because there are many opportunities available for non-traditional students such as scholarships, job opportunities, and specific recruitment strategies by employers -- especially in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Females have the potential -- just like their male counterparts-- to combine their learned technical skills with their developed employability skills to find great success in career fields they may have never even considered, so we must not shield them from untapped opportunities.
Discover Passion and Purpose
The true trailblazers in the world are people who are able to find both passion and purpose in their chosen career paths. Through work-based learning opportunities, on-the-job training, dual enrollment courses, and exposure to a real working environment, students are exposed to their passion and purpose before they decide to invest money and time into their post-secondary training/education. Consider those students who find excitement in watching a live surgery, those who are ambitious to learn more about the programming and coding behind industry robots, those who have the opportunity to fly a small engine aircraft, or those who help mold young minds in an elementary classroom. These are the students who will embrace their post-secondary plans with enthusiasm and energy because they have been exposed to their “calling” before they graduate high school.
Post-Secondary Training and Education = Early and Often!
CTE is for ALL students and ALL careers so it is imperative that students have the opportunity to begin their post-secondary path with a foot already in the door upon completing a CTE program. As educators and parents, we must ensure that ALL students are also being exposed to ALL opportunities, which can consist of dual enrollment credits, articulated credits, early/middle college programs, industry certifications, as well as work-based learning opportunities. Offering the variety of opportunities that fit the interests and goals of each individual student is what sets CTE apart and ensure students are both college and career ready. In fact, a study conducted by the Southern Regional Education Board indicated 80% of high school students taking both CTE and college prep courses meet college and career readiness goals, versus only 63% who take college prep courses alone.
Show Off Your Soft Skills
Regardless of the business or industry advisory members represent, they are consistently and adamantly stating that it is much easier to teach technical skills to new employees than it is to teach them soft skills or employability skills. Most students will leave a specific CTE program with a similar knowledge-base or technical skill capacity, but it is the soft skills that are going to set them apart from other potential hires. Grit, tenacity, hard-work, problem-solving skills, collaboration, critical thinking skills, initiative, resiliency, and the ability to show up both mentally and physically are just some of the many attributes that employers are looking for. CTE provides the avenue for students to develop those skills in a real-world work setting.
The concept of superpowers that equip a hero with specific attributes allowing him/her to become invincible or powerful is one that is practiced daily by little kids like my own all around the world. And although we adults think that these superpowers do not exist, maybe we just need to start thinking about these “powers” in a different light. The specific attributes that CTE can develop in students are enough to empower them to gain the attitude, skills, and knowledge needed to conquer any dream or achieve any goal they may have. So let’s not sell our students short by denying them access to the powers they need to grow.