The field of career and technical education (CTE) has been evolving in recent years. Formerly known as vocational education, high-quality CTE programs are being championed by educators, policymakers, and employers alike, who recognize that these robust models can help high school students acquire the skills, training, and postsecondary credentials they need to thrive in the twenty-first century workforce.

The economic recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified the urgency of that mission. It has become even more critical to develop viable pathways — including certificates, short- and long-term training opportunities, and two- or four-year postsecondary degrees — that prepare students for jobs in high-demand industries with middle-class wages and possibilities for advancement.

Multifaceted programs and whole school CTE models can improve students’ academic and earnings outcomes.

High-quality CTE programs generally bundle together multiple learning and training components. That can include career-based coursework combined with rigorous academics, dual-enrollment initiatives (with students earning college credit in partnership with postsecondary institutions), the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials, and work-based learning such as mentoring and job shadowing, internships, and apprenticeships. There is also a growing emphasis on teaching industry-transferable “soft skills” such as problem solving, collaboration, communication, and tech literacy, among others.

While there is some evidence that individual program components can make an impact on their own, research shows that schools and programs that bundle together several elements provide more holistic learning experiences that can increase high school credit accumulation toward graduation and improve other academic outcomes, including test scores, graduation rates, and postsecondary enrollment.

Read the full article about CTE in a post-pandemic workforce by Rachel Rose at MDRC.