The future is bright for CTE students

By Larry Tisdale, NJEA member

Larry Tisdale is a culinary arts instructor at the Burlington County Institute of Technology in Medford. He represents Burlington County on the NJEA Vocational, Career, and Technical Education  Committee and serves on his county’s Legislative Action Team. Tisdale can be reached at lctisdale05@gmail.com.

Career Technical Education (CTE) or, as most parents remember it, vocational education, has blossomed and given a new generation of graduates an abundance of options for those who understand the value of a trade career. CTE has undergone revitalization across this country and it is in high demand. With more than 17,000 students turned away from county vocational-technical schools in New Jersey in 2017 alone, it’s clear that there is a need to increase capacity in CTE programs whether offered at the county level or in the context of a comprehensive high school.

With more than 17,000 students turned away from county vocational-technical schools in New Jersey in 2017 alone, it’s clear that there is a need to increase capacity in CTE programs whether offered at the county level or in the context of a comprehensive high school.

This is a remarkable turnaround from the image problem once suffered in CTE programs when college prep was held up as the ultimate path to graduation and a successful life after high school. The result was fewer skilled workers available for often high-paying jobs. The new CTE accessibility requirements along with the skyrocketing price of college has created a new vision for a skilled workforce.

Students who apply to participate in CTE programs at the county level must meet high standards including an outstanding attendance record, good grades and excellent discipline in their previous public or private school. 

The New Jersey Department of Education is working to meet the skilled workforce needs and has reestablished career and technical education as a priority focus in education. To meet the workforce demand, local high schools and county programs have strengthened existing CTE programs and develop new ones.

The New Jersey State Board of Education devoted its February meeting to CTE with presentations from such programs: a partnership with IBM and Paterson Public Schools, partnerships among CTE programs at comprehensive high schools in Morris County, an allied health program in Elizabeth Public Schools, an onsite apprentice program at Festo Didactic, Inc. though the Monmouth County Vocational Technical School District, and a partnership between the NJDOE and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for a pre-apprentice program for high school students. The culinary arts program from Middlesex County Vocational-Technical School (MCVTS) in Perth Amboy provided lunch for the State Board and its guests at the meeting. MCVS’s program was the first public school restaurant in the nation to be certified “green” by the Green Restaurant Association.

Culinary students at the Passaic County Technical Institute compete in a culinary challenge sponsored by NASA.

CTE is by nature a more hands-on style of teaching. Most instruction is individualized with students receiving one-on-one attention leading to deeper student engagement, more comprehensive learning, and increased teacher student relationships. CTE provides students with the ability to find their individual learning styles while its diverse delivery of instruction meets all learning abilities in the same setting.

New Jersey school districts are committed to creating more rigorous content-driven curricula, which has helped to bridge the skilled workforce gap. An emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has been receiving its deserved share of attention as schools are adopting curricula that will prepare students for advanced STEM careers. STEM programs offer greater access to underrepresented groups including women and the socially disadvantaged.

As in Paterson, Elizabeth, and Monmouth and Middlesex counties, districts are developing business partner relationships to maintain current and future industry standards and new technologies. These partners provide mentors, training, and internships and other resources.

Over 25 percent of those who do not have a bachelor’s degree but hold a trade certificate or trade licenses ultimately earn more than those who hold a bachelor’s degree. Vocational schools are preparing and training students to fill the jobs that are critical to the success of New Jersey’s economy—including the kinds of jobs that have not yet even been imagined. The future is bright for the next generation with the new and improved career options taught in CTE. 

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