By Jennifer Wohlleb
Career and Technical Education is not “shop,” “job training” or any of those terms from the past that carry out-of-date connotations. Instead, it is a path to a career that can pay a family-sustaining wage.
That was the message of the panelists who spoke at KSBA’s Summer Leadership Institute about creating a talent pipeline of college- and career-ready students, with the focus on career ready.
“Why are academics so important to career and technical education?” asked Joe Meyer, secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, who led the discussion. “Simply put, you cannot be a good HVAC guy unless you can read at a very high level; those technical manuals are much more difficult to read, understand and use than fiction. If you are in health care, you ought to be pretty good in science. If you are going into any of the construction trades, machine tool, welding, you’ve got to be pretty good at math and science to really understand what is going on.
PHOTO: Panelists at KSBA’s annual Summer Leadership Institute share their experiences to encourage school board members to help students become more career ready. From left, Hugh Haydon, Daryl Smith, Dr. Dale Winkler, Bill Scott and Joe Meyer.
“So by delivering academics as part of CTE, we are really preparing the student for a life that will be economically successful as well as give them a foundation from which to pursue other opportunities, including advanced education.”
CTE is also good for a district’s bottom line: its students graduate at levels higher than the state average, Meyer said.
Dr. Dale Winkler, the cabinet’s executive director for Career and Technical Education, noted that college and career readiness is now part of Kentucky’s accountability system and encouraged schools to create career pathways that align to a postsecondary degree or training.
Students, he said, should, “learn at an early age in elementary school what the career clusters are, then in middle school they have the opportunity to explore in those career clusters and then make a decision on a career pathway where they will concentrate on a career and technical education program when they are in high school.”
To help guide students toward a path, the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board has identified five industry sectors that have high growth and high wage potential:
1. Automobile manufacturing
2. Transportation, distribution and logistics
3. Businesses services (research and development)
4. Health care/social assistance
5. Energy creation/transmission
Kentucky’s 10 Local Workforce Investment Boards also have identified industry sectors in their local communities.
“A sector strategy is a focused effort around a specifically identified industry or business sector that has been identified in a state, a region a community, as being a particularly important sector for that reason,” said panelist Hugh Haydon, vice chairman of the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board and chairman of Kentucky BioProcessing in Owensboro.
The strategy brings together all stakeholders, businesses in that sector and those who are interested in finding employment in the sector.
Identifying these areas helps schools create partnerships with business and industry, which helps them better teach their students the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the workforce.
Panelist Daryl Smith, chairman of the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board and project manager with LG&E/Kentucky Utilities, said Fayette County teachers participate in the Lexmark Teacher Institute.
“Each summer we take teachers out of the classroom and engage them in industry so they get a keen understanding of the workforce and they can teach different things and steer students differently to where opportunity is,” he said.
Smith said it is essential to nurture students’ interests and find a way to encourage exploration.
“It’s amazing how many students have interests in K-3 for example, and then how the light goes out by the time they get to middle high school,” he said. “... if we could figure out what these kids are good at and build on that, I think we could get them much more interested in an academic pathway throughout their career.”
Winkler said that lack of connection and interests leads to dropouts. In one district, he said, “Eighty-eight percent of the students who dropped out said in their exit interviews that they were not tied into any kind of pathway, they were not involved in anything like music, they were not part of the career and technical student organizations, they were not a part of anything; they had no direction.”
KSBA Executive Director Bill Scott said it’s important for school board members to understand their role so they can facilitate these pathways and relationships.
“You’ve got to help the public understand this new definition for career readiness and why career readiness is so important to the success of our kids and our communities,” he said. “We need the community’s experience to help our kids understand what different jobs entail, so they need to be coming into our classrooms and talking about their own jobs. We need those folks to give them coaching in certain career paths. We need them to give kids internships and practicums.”
Meyer said one of the biggest changes that boards need to understand is that business partnerships today are more meaningful than just accepting a check.
“Now we want the business community to accept a role in figuring out what the workforce needs are,” he said. “We also need for them to communicate with your academic team what those skills are so you can make sure they are being taught."