Career Development

Educated plant maintenance

Joel Leonard says career and technical education can fill the gap in American school systems.

By Joel Leonard, contributing editor

One of the biggest gaps in today's education system is the one between the realization that choosing a career and technical education (CTE) path or enrolling in a set of CTE courses as an elective doesn’t inhibit student growth, but enhances it. Unfortunately, most people think that, if a student is enrolled in what they call a trade class, they’re receiving inadequate education that doesn’t match the academic prowess of the advanced placement (AP) courses being so strongly encouraged as the educational standard.

Peyton Holland, postsecondary director, SkillsUSA North Carolina (www.skillsusanc.org), explained the situation to me. As a result of this belief in the idea of inadequate education, many students are forced or strongly encouraged to pursue classes in which they have no genuine interest and that might provide them with knowledge, but not practical knowledge for the career they’ll eventually follow. We need to clear up the misconceptions about CTE and help educators, counselors, parents and legislators realize that CTE is home to some of the most advanced educational programs students can find today.

Students enrolled in automotive technology have to learn to work with extremely advanced computer systems to be able to diagnose and correct problems with technology-driven vehicles. Students enrolled in manufacturing courses learn to work with computer numerical control (CNC) machines that not only form sophisticated components for everything from space shuttles to devices that we rely on daily, but that also can engineer 3-D models that assist in everything from criminal investigations by generating facial models to product concepts across industries. Many people don’t realize that enrolling in a CTE course in high school and pursuing that skill set at the next level of education or employment doesn’t limit a student’s success; in many cases, it catapults the student to great levels of achievement.

An automotive technology student might go from studying or working as an automotive technician to pursuing an advanced engineering degree to learn how to design the next electric vehicle that can change how America commutes. A masonry or carpentry student might go from learning the basic skills of the trade to owning and operating a construction company that leads the nation into the next generation of green building or develops new ways to withstand natural disasters. The possibilities of CTE are endless.

An automotive technology student might go from studying or working as an automotive technician to pursuing an advanced engineering degree to learn how to design the next electric vehicle that can change how America commutes.

We need to fill the gap that many people have about this critical piece of education with the fact that CTE courses provide high school students with great direction before spending four years in a higher educational institution exploring career paths. Education is about giving our students a head start by allowing and encouraging them to pursue a variety of career paths early so that they can form educated opinions about the activities and work that interests them the most.

We shouldn't limit students by forcing them into the traditional academic courses in increasingly high numbers. We should enable them by encouraging them to take courses that provide the opportunity to apply academic knowledge to real-world problems so they can better relate to careers and futures in the global workforce.

When you think of advanced chemistry, you don't typically think of the cosmetology industry. However, the science behind a variety of hair products and styling requires a great knowledge of chemistry. A student who enjoys cosmetics and chemistry might never make that connection and limit their career opportunities if not allowed to explore CTE courses during high school.

The next generation of American workers is the one that can help this country become self-sufficient again. That generation can help us move from sequential economic recessions to a time of prosperity. It isn’t going to come out of millions of students receiving only advanced education in the traditional academic fields. Prosperity is going to come out of students with educational experiences that teach them how to apply the advanced knowledge of core academic subject areas to real problems, real products and real projects, with real results.

This real and relevant education comes from CTE. Don't limit students through education. Enable them with practicality and choice in their futures. CTE isn’t inadequate education. It’s the foundation that keeps America running. It’s what provides us with technology at our fingertips and a healthy heartbeat.

CTE keeps business moving and allows us to connect with anyone everywhere any time. CTE is our future, and if we remove it from schools and curriculum we cripple America's ability to rise from its troubled state to become the world-class example of ingenuity that has always given us such pride.

Give America its future back tomorrow by giving our students a choice in practical education today. If we taught predictive technologies in high school and students by the dozen became proficient in using infrared technology, vibration analysis and ultrasound on automated manufacturing systems, wouldn’t we have an edge?

Email Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at joel@skilltv.net.