February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month and a great time to highlight all the work that goes into the field on multiple levels – state, region, district, school, and community. Career and technical education is uniquely positioned to prepare students for their future in a way other courses do not – with hands-on, real-world experience that builds skills for the workplace.

In the past, CTE courses have had the stigma of “just” being beneficial to students who may not be seeking a 2- or 4-year degree because it was believed that the academic rigor of these courses may be lower than others in the school. As a result, CTE has typically only been promoted among a small percentage of students instead of introducing the entire student population to its numerous benefits.

In recent years, the tides have turned when it comes to career and technical education. A career-centric approach to preparing students for their future means that schools and districts are exposing students to career pathways as early as elementary school and integrating pathway conversations at every grade level. Career academies, courses, and work experiences have expanded to include multiple career clusters with varying levels of educational attainment. CTE is now for all – and it’s time to join the movement!

CTE Month is the perfect time to evaluate programming at your school or district. These simple tips ensure your CTE program is reaching each student regardless of their academic ability and postsecondary education plan.

1. Instill a Career-Centric Culture

Instead of focusing on postsecondary educational aspirations, change to career-focused conversations. Ask teachers to talk about their own pathways – how did they decide on their career? How did they know the education they would need to get there? How did they decide that they wanted to be a teacher? By infusing career-centric conversations into the classroom, students are encouraged to explore their interests, skills, and work values to forge a career pathway that is right for them regardless of the education necessary to achieve it.

2. Create Opportunities for Exploration

There is no better way for students to understand options for career pathways than first-hand industry experience. Work-based learning (WBL) is now a norm (and requirement) in many states. WBL can take many forms, depending on time, space, and place. From year-long internships to part-time jobs to in-school career presentations, schools and districts should offer a wide array of opportunities for their students to capitalize upon.

3. Make Meaningful Community Connections

Career and technical education experiences are greatly enhanced with community partnerships. No matter the size of your community, connections to the workforce, including trades, business, and healthcare industries are vital. Not only do these partnerships assist students in connecting with those working in the field, but those connections also enhance the likelihood that students will remain in – or return to – the community to work in meaningful careers and positively contribute to the local economy.

With a career-centric focus throughout elementary, middle, and high school, CTE courses and experiences can be beneficial to each and every student in the district. Learn more about how you can bring career and technical education to life in your school by exploring our various research-based CTE solutions.

About the Author

Kim Oppelt, Ed.D is the Vice President of Career Readiness and Development at Kuder. Dr. Oppelt has over 20 years of experience in career and college readiness, both as a licensed school counselor and in educational technology. Throughout her career, Dr. Oppelt has worked with districts and state systems throughout the country to design and implement successful pathway planning processes, developed products and programming for K-12 students, and has conducted research on the experience of students as they develop their own career pathways. Dr. Oppelt has a B.A.S. in Health Education from the University of Minnesota Duluth, a M.S. in counseling from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and a Doctor of Education from St. Mary’s University.