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Building the Workforce: State Leaders Explore CTE Options

By Andrew Smalley  |  September 26, 2022

Postsecondary career and technical education programs, also known as CTE programs, have become an area of focus for state legislators looking to develop the workforce, experts say.

“Quality, affordable nondegree CTE programs—in addition to degree programs, not instead of degrees—are essential for providing for the economy,” Shalin Jyotishi, senior policy analyst at the think tank New America, told a pre-conference session at the NCSL Legislative Summit.

Jyotishi says the demand for such programs has tripled.

“Employers are more interested in nondegree paths to career preparation, learners are more interested in nondegree paths to career preparation, and education providers are interested in nondegree paths, mostly to appeal to the latter two categories,” he says.

CTE programs include a broad range of training opportunities, including apprenticeships.

“We want to give our students exposure to the industry partners. This is where apprenticeships come in, where internships come in,” says Mordecai Brownlee, president of the Community College of Aurora. “For us, an apprenticeship is leading directly to employment. The internship model is the exposure—it may count for college credit but doesn’t necessarily lead to employment.”

Jyotishi says apprenticeships happen at the intersection of employers and education.

“One of the beauties of apprenticeship programs is, it is really the closest possible coupling between the education provider and the employer that you can have,” he says. “Internships and job-shadowing programs are kind of like a low-touch version of employer-educator connections.”

Brownlee also stresses the importance of connecting institutions like his to relevant workforce partners in Colorado.

“As our workforce partners are telling us, if you don’t move faster, we will move around you,” he says. “What we are noticing in the career and technical education space is that our industry partners are now creating their own training programs. They are totally cutting, in some cases, higher education out because we just move too slow. We need to innovate without doing this work on the back of student.”

Brownlee says there’s a need to improve perceptions about the value and return on investment of CTE programs, which can lead to jobs that pay $85,000 a year after just four to five months of instruction.

“Career and technical education for us, we see it as a vessel, as a tool towards social and economic mobility,” he says. “(But there) is a stigma, and we are still trying to figure out how to break this stigma for students to pursue career and technical education.”

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