As Congress looks to scale up successful career and technical education (CTE) programs as part of its effort to reauthorize the Perkins Act, California could serve as a model.
Those strategies include “creating pathways for students that lead to jobs with real value in the labor market,” Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor for workforce and digital futures at the California Community Colleges, said at a policy forum in Washington, D.C., Oct. 20 hosted by the American Youth Policy Forum. Other strategies under way in the state include a regionalized system of CTE delivery based on the economic sectors most in need of skilled employees and collaboration among high schools, colleges and workforce boards.
Focusing on regional economies helps educators recognize the need to develop the right pathways leading to available jobs. The priority on student outcomes is not just about completion and ensuring students are transfer ready, Ton-Quinlivan said; it’s about ensuring they are workforce ready.
The regional system incorporates apprenticeships and adult education into workforce programs, which are now a $900 million investment, she said.
California used Perkins funds to create an “ecosystem of intrapreneurs,” consisting of a single point of contact for each of the 10 regions to support CTE efforts. Those individuals connect community colleges with employers, provide technical assistance to colleges and help them use data and help employers develop workplace learning programs.
While the demand for jobs requiring some college is outpacing the supply of people with the right skills, jobs requiring no more than a high school diploma are disappearing, Ton-Quinlivan said.
“Even if you earn a four-year engineering degree, that is not going to be current for 50 years,” she noted. “We need to get people into the frame of mind that they need to get some college and come back for constant upskilling.”
CTE needs to incorporate what Ton-Quinlivan calls “the new world of work,” which includes 21st-century skills, such as adaptability, collaboration, digital fluency, an entrepreneurial mindset, empathy, resilience, and self and social awareness.
Education leaders should push career exploration, she said, noting that some people choose accounting merely because it’s first on an alphabetical list of majors. Others choose careers in early childcare education or social work because they have heard of those kind of jobs but don’t know about higher-paid options in medical informatics, computer numerical code machining or other careers that require just two years of college.
A grade 9-14 model
The P-TECH model – which blends high school, community college and workplace skills training – has proven successful in moving underserved students into promising careers, said Stanley Litow, president emeritus of the IBM International Foundation.
The grade 9-14 program, launched in one school in 2011 in partnership with IBM is now in more than 80 schools in six states, Australia and Morocco and involves more than 400 businesses.
When students complete the program, they have a high school diploma, an associate degree, workplace skills and the promise of a job in an in-demand field. And because the college courses are free to students, they have no debt.
P-TECH schools have strong academic programs – it’s not just about job training, Litow said. Every student is assigned a mentor, and there are structured workplace visits and paid internships.
Studies show that for the first P-TECH school in New York City, the college completion rate is 500 percent higher than the national average.
Because P-TECH schools are open enrollment, the program is sustainable and can easily be scaled up, Litow said.
The reauthorization of Perkins should support programs like P-TECH, he said. It should also focus CTE funding on sectors with strong job growth, encourage strong collaboration among colleges and K-12 systems, support experiential education and engage employers.
The House passed a Perkins bill last year with strong bipartisan support. The next step is passage in the Senate.
Partnerships are critical
In New Orleans, YouthForce NOLA was created in 2016 by education and business partners to help students acquire job skills, “soft skills” and work experience.
Education reforms in the city had been effective in ensuring high school students were improving academically, but students weren’t prepared well enough for college or the newly created middle skill jobs in the area, said Cate Swinburn, president of YouthForce NOLA.
The organization focuses on the skilled crafts, such as construction, energy, advanced manufacturing, water management, health sciences and technology.
To achieve its goals in CTE, the group: helps high schools develop career pathways; assists employers in bringing youths to the workplace; hosts externships for teachers; and promotes community and family engagement.
Nationwide, there’s been a “dramatic resurgence in CTE in the last five years,” said Mary Visher, senior associate at MDRC. She cited four reasons:
- Employers are seeing a shortage of skilled workers.
- An associate degree or certificate can be more valuable than a bachelor’s degree in certain fields and has a better return on investment.
- CTE is no longer considered “a dumping ground” for students not expected to go to college.
- CTE is one of the few approaches in education that has bipartisan support.
Research has shown that the most effective strategies in CTE are dual enrollment, as well as small learning communities, career academies and internships, Visher said.
She called for CTE to “reposition itself” as a pathway, rather than as an alternative, to postsecondary education.