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Career Tech Programs Work to Strengthen Employer-School Partnerships

Linthicum, Md

For career technical education to be relevant, program leaders know they need to deepen their connections with employers.

At a meeting of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) just outside of Baltimore this week, officials from New Jersey and Virginia were among those who shared what was working in their states to engage businesses and sell students on high school career training.

"We have to deal with the changing perception of CTE. It's about more than auto tech and cosmetology," said Andrew Musick, the director of policy and research with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, on a panel Wednesday.  Students can find lucrative jobs in high-tech manufacturing, health care, and green technologies, with industry certifications and associate degrees —and parents are starting to see the value of training for middle-level jobs with the rising cost of college, he added.

In New Jersey, about half of employers who were recently surveyed reported a shortage of skilled workers. At the same time, demand for career technical high schools has exceeded capacity with about 17,000 more students interested in CTE than there was space, reported Musick.

State CTE and business leaders came together earlier this year to propose eight pieces of legislation to promote career training in the schools.  One bill focuses on CTE training for school counselors and teachers to better inform students about the opportunities in newly emerging career fields.

The coalition of business and education leaders in the state has been successful in getting most of the CTE bills through the New Jersey legislature and some are on their way to the governor's desk for consideration, said Musick. Linking education to the economy has been critical in the effort, he added.

New Jersey has formed "talent networks" with pools of employers in seven industry sectors, including transportation and hospitality, to inform CTE programs about workforce needs and training.  The 100 high school CTE programs in the state are also required to have advisory committees that include employers. The state recently developed a manual to help schools know how to best use the committees to help with curriculum development, work-based learning, job shadowing, and career advice, said Marie Barry, the director of CTE in the New Jersey Department of Education, on a panel at the NASDCTEc conference.

"New Jersey is an example of a statewide initiative of advocacy," said Kim Green, the executive director of the Silver Spring, Md.-based NASDCTEc. "We have been working at building systems and breaking down silos between education and the workforce."

To get businesses to work with schools, Green said schools need to focus on outcomes. "There has to be a value proposition as to why employers get involved in this," she said.

CTE programs in Virginia have recently partnered with the Virginia Automotive Dealers Association to train teachers and community colleges on certification and training requirements needed in the industry. Virginia State CTE Director Lolita Hall said a memorandum of understanding clearly spelled out the expectations of the association and the school, providing a road map for their work together. The business partners helped with teacher professional development, internships for the high school students, and developing testing requirements. "We put skin in the game,splitting the costs of training," said Hall. "We agreed and set goals, objectives and then evaluated the results."

Matthew James, the president and chief executive officer of the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development in Newport News, Va., said that employers need skilled workers from CTE programs to compete internationally.  

To help CTE programs understand the needs of industry, his organization sponsors summer camps for teachers to tour local companies. For the past four years, business leaders in the area have also hosted a careers day where 3,000 students prepare resumes, learn about professional dress, meet with employers, and do practice job interviews. '"The kids look forward to it, and they are starting to have a better idea about careers—and it has turned into placement for 11th graders looking for summer jobs," said James.

The state consortium of CTE leaders is expected to release a report in early December about best practices in employer engagement.

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