If you have been in education for a while, especially secondary education, you might have heard the phrase “not everyone is going to go to college.” This is true for various reasons that range from affordability to desire to opportunity.

Over the past two or three decades, public education has improved its ability to graduate students who are career-ready in addition to students who are college-ready. There was a time when the primary focus was on college-ready; now both options are incredibly viable for a student.

These Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are not limited to students who don’t want to go to college. It may put a little more stress on their class load, but many students who are college-bound graduate high school with a CTE certification. Some use that certification to get a job to pay for their college so they can go further in that particular field.

What is a CTE Program?

A student can graduate high school and enter the workforce the next week with their completed certification or training through a career and technical program or class.

The Texas Education Agency defines a CTE program: “Career and technical education programs offer a sequence of courses that provides students with coherent and rigorous content. CTE content is aligned with challenging academic standards and relevant technical knowledge and skills needed to prepare for further education and careers in current or emerging professions.”

For example, here in Texas, one sequence to a phlebotomy certificate goes from health science to medical terminology to anatomy and physiology and, finally, practicum health science. This would complete the sequence of courses and give students the relevant technical knowledge and skills needed to earn the certificate in this area.

What Kinds of CTE Programs are Available

As a Texas native, I will start there and branch out to show the expanse of options students have if they choose to go through a CTE route.

Texas offers 12 different board programs of study: agriculture, architecture, arts, business, education, health science, hospitality, human services, information technology, law/public service, manufacturing, and transportations/distribution/logistics.

California listed 17 different programs of study, and Florida listed 18. Texas has identical strands as what California and Florida provide.

Inside each program of study are different options for students to travel through to get certifications. For example, information technology has 32 other certifications students can learn. Some of those are on the software side of programming, some in cybersecurity, some in computer repair, etc.

Here are the different strands in Texas and the number of possible certifications coming from these programs of study:

  • Agriculture (13)
  • Architecture (30)
  • Arts (19)
  • Business (12)
  • Education (4)
  • Health science (37)
  • Hospitality (5)
  • Human services (5)
  • Information technology (32)
  • Law/public service (4)
  • Manufacturing (38)
  • Transportations/distribution/logistics (43)

Many other states have similar situations.  All of these states are producing future workers in their community and their state through their CTE certifications.

How to Help Students Explore CTE Programs

The process of getting students plugged into CTE programs in most states begins at the middle school level, where students will take interest surveys and personality style tests that will match up with what jobs fit their interests and styles.

Granted, that can change a lot from seventh grade to tenth grade, but since many of the programs take three or four years to complete, it is good to have students headed in a direction when they get to high school. Also, many of the first- and second-year level CTE classes are interchangeable and will not tie a student into a final direction in that pathway. Levels three and four are more difficult to make adjustments in while still getting the desired certification.

In Texas and a few other states, middle schools offer classes like Investigating Careers and College and Career Readiness. Both courses focus on career discovery and problem-solving skills.

Then the students come to high school, and there are some different routes to help students explore CTE programs. Some schools will have an introductory freshman class that covers some of the aspects mentioned above for middle school but will delve deeper into careers, salaries, and the education and training needed to reach these aspirations. These classes will also help direct students toward what they might be interested in career-wise and help them find a path that might fit their career choice the best.

At freshman orientation in the summer, many CTE programs will recruit students. Programs will often have posters and information on how much you can earn with a job in that field, scholarship opportunities available through their pathway, and competitions that students can compete in.

Many of the pathways will have clubs and organizations associated with their career path. This also serves as a recruiting tool for students interested in hanging out with some friends and learning how much interest they might have in engineering, video games, etc.

Another route to plug students into CTE programs is through the counseling process with their school counselor. This is where many students map out their plan for CTE classes, their academic path to graduation, and figure out how to fit all these classes into their schedule. Counselors are also trained to observe and analyze a student’s performance and personality to help match them on a path they are interested in and can be successful in.

In the end, helping students explore CTE programs is about exposing students to their options, trying to match them with their interests, and then guiding them down the path to success.