Passionate professionals make all the difference in CTE programs—here’s how to give your school and district programs new life

4 ways to enrich CTE programs

Passionate professionals make all the difference in CTE programs—here’s how to give your school and district programs new life

Right now, there’s a labor shortage. The U.S. has more jobs available than there are people to work them. This means individuals who are just starting their careers can more easily snag positions in trade occupations, such as construction, cosmetology, HVAC, and more. But in order to take advantage of these opportunities, students first need to know that they are available.

StrataTech Education Group’s survey found that while 70 percent of students attend high schools that offer career and technical education programs, only 32 percent promote the trades as a potential post-graduation path. Despite this, 51 percent of students consider pursuing trade school. What holds them back? A lack of support, confidence, or knowledge–challenges that high schools can solve with enriched CTE programs.

If more schools enhanced their CTE programs, more students would feel comfortable pursuing the trades. The good news is that boosting program participation is not a huge investment. In fact, bringing in passionate professionals could be enough to get students excited about their career options. Here are four ways to get started:

1. Ask students what industries and occupations interest them.

CTE programs must be designed with students, not just for students. If not, there will be a disconnect between what educators hope to convey and what young people are taking away. The best way to guide young individuals toward meaningful job opportunities is to let their insights guide the curriculum. Which industries are they interested in? What occupations do they think they are suited for? Who would they like to hear from?

Schools should find professionals who can describe their experiences and answer students’ questions. If more students know what a trade career entails, they will feel more confident in their abilities and knowledge when picking a path.

2. Talk about what opportunities are available in the trades.

Some trade industries (like construction) are in the midst of a labor shortage. As a result, young people interested in related careers may find that many companies are more flexible when it comes to on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and salaries.

Schools should aim to form connections with employers who anticipate needing new, well-trained tradespeople. Employers willing to become mentors or guest speakers can help keep young people excited and engaged. They can also be beneficial when it comes to designing CTE programs that prepare students for the future.

3. Perform cold outreach and contact former students and local trade businesses.

Students enjoy getting outside expert-level viewpoints from people who have been successful in the fields they want to pursue. Yet it can seem daunting to find speakers who are willing to share their insights with young people. Many teachers do not have the budget to bring in flashy keynote speakers. The good news is that they don’t need dollars to attract guests.

One way to ensure a steady stream of passionate professionals is for teachers to stay connected with former trade students. Former students — particularly ones who have become their own bosses — could become influential and inspirational resources for students considering a career path in the trade. Another clever, fun way to involve passionate professionals that students can talk to is to reach out to local trade businesses. Perhaps students could visit their workplaces or professionals could judge a trade-based contest in the classroom.

4. Seek professional introductions from teachers’ and administrators’ networks.

Every employee in the education field has a unique social and professional network. Why not ask these individuals if they know someone who is actively working in or retired from the trades? Tapping into staff members’ extensive networks can help schools bolster their CTE programs with passionate professionals.

Using an app like Introducely for professional introductions to tradespeople who might be willing to come to a classroom, perform a demonstration, or be part of a Zoom Q&A session can elicit many immediate opportunities. Teachers can easily review proposed introductions, follow up on those introductions, and arrange their curriculum calendars accordingly.

Current occupational prospects look good for students who are participating in CTE programs and pursuing a career in the trades. Schools can help fast-track interested learners by being proactive in enriching their CTE programs and joining forces with outside professionals who can help foster passion for the trades.

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