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Career and Technical Education Teachers Make the Grade

Many employers have trouble finding qualified workers. And that adds up to a failing grade for the future of the workforce. Proper education and training are needed to prepare workers for the changing world of work.

Career and technical education (CTE) teachers help address this need by getting today's students into shape for tomorrow's jobs. Educators say the need for CTE teachers will continue to rise to meet the demand for workers with the right skills.

"Our community colleges do an excellent job supplying technically skilled workers, but the number of graduates does not come close to filling our workforce needs," says Ron Dexter. He's the director of career and technical education at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon.

CTE, or vocational education, prepares students young and old for a wide range of careers. Common CTE subject areas include agriculture, business, family and consumer sciences, health, marketing, technology, and skilled trades.

Students from these classes can find work everywhere from the catwalk to the kitchen. These programs can lead to a wide range of job titles: farmer, fashion designer, accountant, entrepreneur, chef, nurse, dental assistant, programmer or carpenter, just for starters.

"Career and technical education has changed a lot in the last 40 years," says Dexter. "In the old vocational model, programs were focused primarily on programs that taught metals, woods, automotive, agriculture, home economics, and business. Today, CTE provides many new career options for students."

There is a need for teachers in all areas, especially in programs that offer state-of-the-art technology to meet the needs of business and industry.

The bottom line: All of this is great news for technical education teachers. A massive wave of teacher retirements is just about to begin, and there's already an eye-opening shortage of workers.

CTE teacher Kevin English sums up the shortage with one word: "Opportunity!"

"Career and technical education teachers have the opportunity to monitor and adjust their programs to meet the changing needs of their community and industry partners," says English. "To survive, industry has changed. CTE programs will need to do the same.

"The CTE teachers and programs that make the adjustments will thrive, and students will have viable employment opportunities."

The Shortage of Skilled Vocational Workers: A Quick History

"For a long time, education was reserved for the privileged few and as a way to access the better jobs in society. Those not so fortunate to [be able to] afford 'an education' were counseled and sometimes forced to 'take a trade' and work under an experienced tradesperson to apprentice," explains Gilbert Noussitou. He's a member of a vocational instructors' association and teaches culinary arts.

English tells a similar story.

"Many parents want their children to pursue careers different than their own, and pursue lofty goals. My parents were very strong on my going to college. Many parents have a negative perception of career and technical education. They tend to associate it with the outdated programs of the past, and fail to see the new opportunities that are there for students in CTE," says English.

"This phenomenon has led to an increase of people with 'an education' and a shortage of people with trade skills," Noussitou sums up.

Noussitou's statement rings true with American government officials.

"There will be an even greater need for today's students to learn the skills they need for good jobs in the future," says Ryan J. Taylor. He's with the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).

Filling Available Positions: A Human Resource Challenge

"There are not enough career and technical teachers available," says Dexter. "Most states have an alternate teaching licensure process for hiring CTE teachers based on their technical skills and related work experience, but the problem is not many people are aware that an alternate licensure pathway exists.

"So when there is a CTE teaching position available at a high school or community college, human resources staff almost always scramble to find a highly qualified instructor."

The Senate HELP Committee says that states interested in expanding their technical education programs will also have to expand their teacher pool. This seems difficult considering the situation in the field that English describes.

Government and industry are working to overcome these problems. Taylor points out the American Competitiveness Initiative, which should be of great interest to CTE teachers.

"It provides for increased emphasis on math and science education, and a growing body of research suggests CTE programs have a positive impact on literacy, math and science achievement," Taylor explains.

Addressing the Shortage of CTE Teachers

Recruitment is a primary focus for CTE programs.

"CTE teachers need to look in their classrooms and encourage young people to become teachers. We need to find our replacements, and help them get the funding and connections to move on in education," says English.

Marilynn Daye is in charge of a vocational instructor training program. Her students include trainers in the workplace, teachers in post-secondary schools who are experts in their field but do not have teaching expertise, and those who have an expertise and want to teach adults.

"Adults with an expertise take our program because there may be a lack of teachers with that expertise, or many teachers with that expertise may be retiring," she says. "Also, they just want to try something new. Many have just gained a lot of experience in a certain area, have a passion for it, and want to teach their passion. In continuing education and part-time studies, we love teachers and trainers who are passionate about their expertise! Many continue to work full time (as accountants or nurses or whatever), and then teach their passion in the evenings.

"Most teachers and trainers who take our program already have expertise in something, whether it's makeup, welding or auto body. We teach them how to teach, not what to teach. Our program shows teachers and trainers how best to help all learners in their diverse classroom settings," says Daye.

Noussitou says he believes there are enough highly trained individuals willing and ready to take on vocational instructor jobs. The only catch is that the education system must also be willing to treat them and pay them as highly skilled workers.

Linking CTE Instruction to Industry Needs

A good instructor must relentlessly adapt to new technologies and revamp training programs accordingly.

"Many CTE teachers are coming from industry. In many states, having work hours in the particular field is required for certification. Internships and externships are being done by CTE teachers in their areas. These allow the CTE teacher to be kept up to date with the latest in technology and to network with the professionals in the industry," says English.

Taylor encourages CTE teachers to stay in touch with the industries in which they work.

"It will help teachers make their curricula more relevant for students, and it will help teachers prepare today's students for good jobs tomorrow," Taylor says. "Connecting high academic standards with industry-recognized certificates and credentials will be a very important strategy for this country's long-term success."

What It Takes to Succeed

CTE teachers must constantly work to keep on top of trends in their field.

"The CTE teacher needs to have educational training, area-specific training, time for externships, time to run their career and technical student organization, and [time to] manage the many other facets of the job," says English. "CTE teachers by nature are problem solvers, like a dynamic environment, are willing to adapt to the needs of their communities."

"If a person really enjoys sharing their technical expertise and knowledge with young people, CTE teaching can provide a very satisfying and rewarding career," says Dexter.


Association for Career and Technical Education
The largest national education association dedicated to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for careers

Educational World: Vocational Education Community
Resources for teachers

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