When my grandfather entered the workforce with a seventh-grade education in the early twentieth century, he mined coal in western Pennsylvania, did factory work after serving in WWI, and retired as an City Councilman. My grandfather owned a home and a car and led a comfortable life. My father graduated high school toward the middle of the twentieth century and immediately took a job as a door-to-door salesman, a career he never left. Technical Education for Everyone.
When I went to college, I started as a biology major. It quickly became clear that the path wasn’t right for me, so I visited a counselor to discuss my options and landed on a degree in physics education. After college, I spent time as an educator, then as a consultant for NASA, then an entrepreneur, then as a curriculum developer, and most recently as a product manager and strategist.
I share my family history not because it’s unique (many of us have parents with similarly linear career trajectories and have followed a winding path ourselves) but because it has informed my approach to career and technical education. Today, a path like mine – non-linear with a lot of unanswered questions in college – is simply unaffordable for students. Consider that the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s data show that the average younger baby boomer will have changed jobs 12.4 times between ages 18 and 54, and will change careers 5 to 7 times! Today’s students are unlikely to follow a simple path to a good job with limited education or debts as my father and grandfather did. For today’s students, something has to change.
Career and Technical Education is undergoing a revolution
Between rising college costs, projections for jobs that don’t yet exist, and unprecedented developments in AI, students entering the workforce in the next few decades are stepping into uncharted and volatile terrain. Their paths to success will be marked with obstacles their teachers and trainers simply can’t foresee.
Career and technical education (CTE) is undergoing a revolution to keep pace. If you haven’t stayed abreast of changes happening in that space in the last few years, then now’s the time to unlearn everything you think you know about CTE. CTE is no longer an isolated track, “Vo-Tech” only for students who will not attend college. CTE is now for everyone, and it isn’t just about preparing for a single career. It’s about preparing students for any career, regardless of the path they take to get there, through exposure to career opportunities, work-based skills practice, and real-world practice of critical soft skills.
Modern CTE doesn’t have a clear beginning and end, either. Think of it this way: CTE is the sum of all your experiences that contribute to both your value in the workplace and your ability to create a workplace that is of value to you. It’s a coming-of-age story, for all learners and workers, for a lifetime.
CTE can change everything, for every learner
The evidence is clear: CTE is effective. Consider this data story from the U.S. Department of Education. Researchers found that high school students who were CTE concentrators (students who earned two or more CTE credits within a single program of study) graduated from high school at higher rates than their non-concentrator peers, enrolled in postsecondary education within eight years of their expected high school graduation at slightly higher rates than non-concentrators, and were employed full-time at higher rates eight years after their expected high school graduation compared to non-concentrators.
In this groundbreaking study from Georgetown University, researchers found that CTE is one of a few key interventions that can lead to students landing better jobs. From the study: “There are 6.6 million youth in the current high school cohort who are not expected to enter a bachelor’s degree program by age 22 and who do not currently specialize in CTE in high school. If these youth received more high school CTE instruction, 186,000 more young adults in this cohort could have good jobs at age 30.”
To equitably prepare students for tomorrow, CTE must start in middle school
Middle school CTE embodies the characteristics of modern career preparation: It exposes students to diverse career pathways, focuses on developing workforce-relevant soft skills, and gives them opportunities to better understand themselves, the world, and their place in it.
Middle school CTE empowers students to make informed decisions
We ask 18-year-olds to make complex decisions about their future that affect the rest of their financial lives. We owe it to them to equip them with all the information they need – about themselves and the workforce – to make informed decisions that limit their time incurring debts that will be difficult to pay back. A good middle school CTE curriculum is all about exploration and combats harmful, limiting stereotypes about who can do what jobs. It equips students with valuable information so they may intelligently decide what path to take in high school.
It’s never too early to practice soft skills
We cannot predict exactly how AI will change the workforce or what jobs will be created in the next decade. But we do know that as long as humans are humans, soft skills will be in demand. I would even go as far to say that I believe soft skills should be the core of all instruction, with technical skills secondary to transferrable skills. According to a study by LinkedIn (2023) 72% of American executives surveyed said soft skills are more valuable to their organization than AI skills. After spidering over a billion job listings, America Succeeds found that 7 out of the 10 most listed job requirements are related to soft skills. Soft skills aren’t “soft”!
Middle schoolers are developmentally ready for career-relevant work
Finally, CTE should begin in middle school because cognitive science indicates that middle schoolers are ready for it. The transferable skills that are so in demand from employers – like problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity – are a match for middle school-aged brains. Good middle school CTE delivers rigorous instruction through mediums that keep students engaged.
My own path has led me to McGraw Hill, where I’m currently leading the development of CTE programs. Our turn-key middle school program, Career Explorations, will be a driving force in the evolution of the education to workforce pathway. I’m excited to work alongside educators and students to continue to innovate career preparation for tomorrow’s generation of thinkers and doers.
Source: Technical Education for Everyone
By Patrick Keeney, Director of Career and Technical Education at McGraw Hill
Pat Keeney is the lead responsible for the K-12 Career Education portfolio at McGraw Hill, a curriculum publisher with decades of experience supporting teachers, students, and schools. As a strategic design expert, Pat has helped numerous organizations develop programs that locally, regionally, and globally serve the educational needs of schools and communities in 5 different decades. Pat’s efforts have helped organizations like NASA, Stride (formerly “K12 Inc.”), and McGraw Hill connect with teachers and students to deliver outstanding highly effective educational experiences. At McGraw Hill, Pat’s team of talented professionals share in helping create best in class, print and digital products that promote strong student achievement and support teachers. Pat is the father of two successful adult children, one a Millennial and the other a Gen Xer, who continue to follow their paths of fulfillment. Find out more about Pat at https://www.linkedin.com/in/coachk23/ .