Funding challenges and dated perceptions of skilled trade and technical careers continue to hamper efforts to develop and expand career and technical education (CTE) programs at the secondary and postsecondary levels, according to a new report from the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO).
The report highlighted challenges facing CTE and some promising practices. For example, it noted efforts across federal agencies — beyond programs in the U.S. Education and Labor departments — to include workforce development into programs. For example, Washington state has used funding through the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education Program for a technician career pathway that leads to a software development degree and to strengthen recruiting among underrepresented populations in the sector. And a community college in Ohio has tapped a grant through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Manufacturing Engineering Education Program to develop and implement guided pathways in the defense manufacturing industry.
GAO also highlighted efforts that encourage women and other populations underrepresented in certain fields. A technical college in Georgia, for instance, used federal Perkins V funding to make a video featuring men in pathways traditionally pursued by women, such as early childhood care and education. The report also noted efforts in CTE to serve mid-career workers, tribal youths and students with disabilities.
The GAO report is based on interviews with officials in four states — Delaware, Georgia, Ohio and Washington — and eight CTE programs, as well as stakeholders from business and industry and educators.
Funding and teacher recruiting
CTE faces challenges in funding, stigma over jobs in skilled trades and in recruiting and retaining diverse teachers, the report said. Running CTE programs often requires expensive equipment for training, but there are also other expenses that help students succeed, such as support services and career counseling. Several interviewees noted the success of Washington’s Integrated Basic Education Skills and Training program, known as I-BEST. But replicating the model includes a number of those support services and a team-based approach, which can increase the cost of running such a program, the report said.
Perkins V is the main source of federal funding for secondary and postsecondary CTE programs, but it hasn’t fared well recently in terms of federal appropriations. Perkins Career and Technical Education state grants recently received a small increase in fiscal year (FY) 2022 funding. However, the Biden administration’s FY23 budget, released last week, would provide the program $1.36 billion, which is below its FY 22 level.
Some CTE programs have had success in getting financial help from nonprofit and corporate philanthropies, GAO said. In Delaware, a local bank granted $400,000 to a postsecondary CTE program provider to expand workforce training programs for in-demand sectors in the state, such as health care and construction.
The report also addressed recruiting and retaining instructors for CTE at the high school and college levels. There are challenges with properly training industry workers to teach in classrooms, and with keeping those instructors, who can earn more in the field than teaching, it said.
Negative perceptions about CTE-related jobs also remain a problem, GAO said. The issue was also addressed at a House hearing on workforce development last week. Many parents and school counselors are unaware that those career paths lead to good-paying, in-demand jobs. As noted during the hearing, some community colleges, trade unions and other stakeholders are reaching out to parents and schools with labor-market information and even have current apprentices speak to them about career options.