As my team and I plated our lemon herb chicken with a side of quinoa and black beans for the rest of the class, we all felt a sense of pride in our project. This was my third year of culinary arts, an area of Career and Technical Education (CTE), and I often felt more engaged through this hands-on learning than I ever did in my math, English, or history classes. Similarly, many of my classmates, some from low socioeconomic backgrounds, felt the same disengagement in academic classes. The difference was that with a lack of engagement, they were highly prone to dropping out of high school. These students weren’t building practical, employable skills for the future and if they weren’t pursuing a four-year college degree, solid job opportunities were severely limited. We can solve this challenge through more support for CTE.
Many people believe that CTE, which includes areas like business, health science, and architecture, should be put on the back burner in favor of conventional academic classes. However, CTE provides important occupational preparation to students and supplements it with valuable life-preparation skills like interpersonal communication and collaboration. As such, CTE plays an important role in reducing unemployment nationwide and combatting the associated economic and social consequences. We need more opportunities for high school students to develop employable skills. Whether or not students are going to college, CTE is vital to the overall success and competence of the next generation’s workforce, and all students should be required to take at least one such class during high school.
The most important experiences I had in class involved working alongside students who weren’t in any of my academic classes and were in danger of dropping out. One such student who took culinary arts with me for three years is currently pursuing his associate’s degree in culinary arts and has an internship lined up at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. His is one of many similar success stories. CTE concentrators have an average graduation rate of 93%, as opposed to an overall graduation rate of 82%. Although a large portion of students who drop out do so because of family problems, substance abuse, or otherwise, 81% of dropouts believe that real-world learning opportunities would have kept them in school. Career and Technical Education alleviates this concern by making hands-on training a learning foundation. Over the course of their lives, high school dropouts will be 15% less likely to be employed and will earn 30% less money than high school graduates. The importance of an increase in available opportunities to potential dropouts cannot be overstated, and an increased focus on CTE can accomplish them.
Career and Technical Education provides tangible benefits for national and state economies by preparing students for jobs that require training beyond high school, but less than a bachelor’s degree; these jobs are known as middle-skills jobs. More than 75% of secondary CTE students pursue postsecondary education; at this level, CTE students can earn industry-recognized certifications that qualify them for middle-skills jobs. By 2020, it is estimated that the U.S. will need 4.7 million new workers with postsecondary certificates to fill middle-skills jobs in healthcare support, manufacturing, information technology, and more. Postsecondary CTE students will be able to perform these jobs, filling a serious economic gap that will soon become apparent. However, CTE won’t just fill the gap; it’ll boost the economy. Some states have already tapped into the strength of CTE. In Wisconsin, taxpayers receive $12.20 in benefits for every dollar invested in technical education. This is a reality that we can spread across the country.
CTE puts students on the track to reliable job opportunities and helps them become contributing members of society. We need to build more support for CTE, and the buck stops with all of us. As constituents, we all have the ability to meet with local, state, and national legislators and implore them to support bills for CTE funding. Everyone deserves his or her shot in life, and Career and Technical Education can provide at-risk students with an outlet for professional development and personal achievement while benefiting the economy for everyone. If you ask me, that’s a clear recipe for success.