How many times a day do we read or hear or say "college and career readiness"? If you're like me, a lot.
Global Competence Matters
What is career readiness? There's a lot of ambiguity around what it means. The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc), headed by Kimberly A. Green, has assembled a team to work on a common definition to be published in mid-June. When I spoke with Green, she told me "It certainly involves technical skills, as well as language proficiency, and global competency."
"CTE is critical to ensure the U.S. leads in global competitiveness," Green explains. Because of a globalized economy, the challenges and opportunities facing employers have changed. "CTE is a system that's responsive to employers. We have to acknowledge we're in a different playing field."
Ground-Swell Programs and Public Policy
Career and technical education (CTE) has been around for a long time and is in every state and nearly every community in our nation. There are 16 nationally recognized career clusters—ranging from agriculture and the arts, to STEM and transportation—and dozens of pathways within the clusters. Currently, some 14 million Americans are enrolled in a career or technical education course or program.
Many of these programs have an international focus. Patrick Ainsworth, President, National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc), and Assistant Superintendent, Secondary, Postsecondary & Adult Education, California Department of Education, described dozens of international and global CTE courses in the University of California system, and approximately 600 high school courses devoted to international trade. The state has recorded some 185 high school programs that create virtual international businesses, and 14 academies are devoted to global CTE.
"But there has to be policy anchors at the national and state levels," Ainsworth cautions. "CTE is the cornerstone of state economic development and high school redesign." For these efforts to be successful, leaders from many different sectors must work together.
Good Advice from a State Perspective
The State of Georgia has made some very promising strides to align CTE with global competency in general, and language proficiency specifically. The business community has made it clear that cross-cultural competency, language proficiency, and regional expertise are important qualities to look for in job candidates.
Jon Valentine, Program Specialist, Languages and International Education, Georgia Department of Education, explained that the education community responded by gathering key stakeholders, namely the Department of Education, the technical college system, the Board of Regents, and the business community, to create a plan, make it inclusive, and to endorse a Georgia House Bill (400).
Valentine offered four points of advice for other states who want to link language and cultural proficiency to career readiness.
First, make students want it, too. What's important to employers should also be important to job seekers. The state worked on a campaign to get students to say, "I am interested in finance," for example, "and I know having a global perspective will positively affect my career trajectory." How did they do it? They asked students to write a personal essay about their aspirations and then prompted them to speculate how learning foreign languages will help them on that path.
Secondly, don't be choosy with languages. Valentine is often asked which languages go with which careers. "There is no bad choice nor best fit for any industry," Valentine assures students and parents. "Whatever language you choose, you'll be the go-to guy or gal for your industry."
Thirdly, get people to travel, and the younger they are, the better. Only around 35% of Americans hold passports. Valentine leads several travel initiatives that give students exposure to international travel at a young age. Even if it's for one or two weeks, it sets the stage for longer and more in-depth international engagements later.
Lastly, for international partnerships, don't save contracts between governments as an afterthought. Commonly known as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs), they are a critical tool that allow many foreign governments to fund exchange programs with American schools.