Career and Technical Education is the key to bridging the skills gap in the US. The President must recognize this and support CTE initiatives throughout the next four years.

Education is Changing

The 2020 pandemic disrupted so many job markets – like entertainment, hospitality, travel, food service and retail. The crisis left thousands of individuals out of work. Those without a trades-based degree found it very difficult to find new work in an economy that was only serving “essential” workers.

While there are a number of solutions to this problem, education is a great starting point.

Now, more than ever, Career and Technical Education (CTE) is perhaps the most important resource for millions of students to get the skills and training for high-demand, high wage careers. Careers that are stable, even in a worldwide pandemic.

10 Truths about Career and Technical Education

With 2020 being an election year, we’re bound to see different policy decisions regarding education over the next four years. In these discussions, we must be intentional in securing and strengthening our CTE programs nationwide. So, Mr. President, we implore you to understand the following 10 truths about Career and Technical Education as you lead our nation these next four years.

1. Manufacturing is the Lifeblood of the American Economy

Here are some stats about manufacturing in the Midwest:

  • In Michigan, manufacturing is a $102 billion industry, providing 631,000 jobs (that’s 14% of non-farm payroll)
  • In Wisconsin, those numbers are $63 billion and 474,000 jobs
  • Iowa produces $36 billion and 228,000 jobs

But manufacturing isn’t a silo; it impacts every economic sector. For every manufacturing job created, 2-6 additional jobs are created in other sectors. Take a moment to think: would my job exist if manufacturing didn’t exist?

Manufacturing is vital to our nation’s economy and workforce. If we want to lower unemployment rates, increase GDP and give individuals opportunities for success, we need to invest in technical education.

2. Manufacturing is Coming Back to America

A recent article published in Supply and Demand Chain Executive notes, “The disruption in the supply chain has led manufacturers to re-evaluate logistics to mitigate risk by considering onshore or near-shoring solutions, moving production closer to their customer base…”

The COVID-19 pandemic left a huge shortage in supplies, particularly crucial medical PPE and equipment. We’re understanding the necessity of moving manufacturing closer to the point of consumption.

3. If Equity and Diversity are Important, CTE Careers are Too

Manufacturing doesn’t get enough credit for how diverse its workforce is. From age to gender to ethnicity, any production facility will have individuals of all backgrounds.

Manufacturing is also better than average at providing opportunities for growth and promotion. There are great jobs available to individuals who are willing to show up and work hard. And for those who continue their skills-based training, there are always more complex and higher-paying jobs available.

If our President wants to make sure our workforce is diverse and representative, then he must look to manufacturing as an example. Those who pursue Career and Technical Education pathways will find a wealth of opportunity wherever they go, regardless of their background.

4. Opportunities for Career and Technical Education Students are Endless

Manufacturing is one of the few sectors where you can start off sweeping the floor and end up running the company. Or for that matter, stop anywhere along the way and still have a great career.

The wages for skilled trades are impressive – often $45-$60,000 a year to start. That can be achieved with a high school diploma and a few industry-recognized certifications.

CTE programs also offer so many pathways for a student to go down that it can truly fit any type of learner. Individuals following a CTE focus can receive training in their Technical Education coursework in high school, through Youth and Registered Apprenticeships, receive Associates degrees at a community or technical college, get trained right at work and earn credentials, or continue their education all the way through a typical four-year degree program and beyond.

The value is in the number of options, and the simple fact that every option results in a great career.

5. Great Careers Start with Inspiration

The Manufacturing Institute and SkillsUSA performed a study of 23,000 young people: They asked, what inspired your career choice?

All the usual suspects came up on the answers: parents, coaches, social media and friends. But the top answer was surprising.

Kohler Skilled Trades U CampThe number one influencer is their own experiences in middle and high school (64%!). That means it’s up to parents, teachers and policy-makers to ensure students have access to a wide variety of CTE experiences. When a student gets to participate in STEM clubs, get hands-on with engineering experiments and sees firsthand the types of careers available in STEM, she can make an informed choice about her future.

There’s a bit of a domino effect, here. If we don’t provide those experiences in K-8, she won’t take CTE electives in high school, which means she won’t pursue a technical education or a STEM degree either.

It’s our responsibility, even up to the level of the President, to create opportunities for those experiences early and often.

6. Equipping Programs is Expensive

We won’t shy away from it: equipping a lab with the very best in technical education training systems is expensive. If we have outdated labs, students’ skills will fall short when they enter the workforce.

The ROI comes from the fact that students are getting to learn on the very brands and components they’ll see on the job: from PLCs to VFDs, software and more.

The President must ensure schools are able to fund their programs to give students the quality of training they need to be successful in their careers.

7. Some Students Should Earn Bachelors and Masters Degrees

Here’s an unpopular opinion: Pushing for a 100% placement rate of high school students into four-year programs is a misguided goal.

And yet so many districts are using this one data point as a measure of success or failure.

The truth is, we should encourage students to pursue the pathway that will best serve them – whether that be direct to workforce or military service, an apprenticeship program, a technical degree or yes, even a Bachelors degree and beyond.

We will always need engineers, scientists and doctors who go through years and years of schooling to be experts at what they do. But let’s not be misguided into thinking that’s the only measure of success.

8. Jobs in Manufacturing Technology are Really Cool

Can we all agree to dismantle the outdated image of manufacturing and skilled trades? Unfortunately, so many students pass up CTE programs because their history textbook gave manufacturing a bad rap. (This goes back to #5 and why we need to build out labs that inspire students).

Today’s careers in advanced manufacturing are extremely high-tech and exciting. You can work with huge industrial robots, collaborative robots, autonomous vehicles, digital twins, artificial intelligence technology and more.

Does our President truly know how amazing these careers are? If not, how can we expect his administration to invest in our CTE programs?

9. Industry 4.0 is Real

Career and Technical Education students at LIFT Learning Lab in MichiganIndustry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is alive and well in industry. Companies all over the world are using cyber-physical systems, machine learning, mixed reality and advanced data analytics in their operations today.

Industry is evolving at an exponential rate, giving education quite a job to stay on pace. Education has more barriers to large-scale change than industry, so we need to set a priority on quickly updating our Tech Ed labs and curriculum.

Our President needs to understand the impact Industry 4.0 has on our economy. He needs to make the investment in our Career and Technical Education programs today to ensure that tomorrow, our graduates can continue to secure our nation’s economic position in a competitive global landscape.

10. We Can and Must Scale Quickly

Manufacturing is growing. Yes, even in the midst of a global pandemic. But that’s just one industry CTE students can work in. We’re seeing a growth in automated systems across every sector: from distribution to healthcare to construction. Students on a CTE-focused pathway can gain the skills to work with the latest technology in any of those industries.

We already have a skilled labor shortage in the United States, and that will only grow if we don’t invest in our Career and Technical Education programs today.¬†We need to bolser these programs, and then scale them quickly.

Securing the American Dream

This list may not be exhaustive, but it does hit the most vital points our President needs to know about Career and Technical Education.

Why is it so important? Because the next generation of students needs our help to give them the best chance at a rewarding career.

We believe our students deserve to achieve the American Dream. The American Dream says anyone can pursue a career they’re passionate about – to have the resources, funding and opportunity to achieve that goal. Career and Technical Education programs at our schools are perhaps the best way for our students to do this.

We must all align on this mission. And that starts with you, Mr. President.