Career and Technical Education: Erase the Stigma with a Fresh Perspective

Career and Technical EducationThere was a time when you could watch any daytime soap opera or talk show and become besieged by low-quality commercials promoting an array of vocational or trade schools. The advertisements’ aura of amateurism stoked the fire of negativity associated with these educational experiences.

For many years vo-tech schools have been frowned upon by the educational community as a low-rate educational experience for individuals who couldn’t succeed at the collegiate level. This was the stigma of the past, but how relevant is it today?

The transition of vocational schools

Vocational schools, often referred to as trade or technical colleges, are typically educational environments that focus on a curriculum designed to train students for specific jobs. While vocational schools look very different from country to country, in the United States the emphasis is hands-on training for a specific trade.

According to ACTE … the courses of study offered by technical schools encompass 94 percent of the interest areas of high school students.

Many view the education from a vocational school as a route to blue-collar jobs, while other colleges and universities provide pathways to white-collar jobs. However, with the increase in formal educational training paired with an even larger choice in trade options, vocational schools are now enjoying a new moniker as career and technical education institutions.

The Association for Career and Technical Education is the largest national education association focused on promoting the benefits of trade and technical schools across the country. According to ACTE, based on data drawn from the U.S. Department of Education’s High School Transcript Study, the courses of study offered by technical schools encompass 94 percent of the interest areas of high school students. Curriculum focus in fast-growing industries such as health care, manufacturing, and STEM-related fields means a quicker transition from student to professional and an increase in viable candidates for businesses in need.

Old thinking about vocational schools dies hard

Perhaps the current education community has moved beyond the old stigmas related to career tech. Current trends in the job market show a rapid growth in career fields emphasizing technology and nursing. These fields lend themselves toward the type of curriculum offered in so many trade schools and draw the conclusion that these alternatives to a traditional post-high school degree can be beneficial for all involved.

So why does a bias still exist?

We need to look no further than the values we place upon ourselves in our culture. Many high schools are rated based on the number of graduating seniors accepted into a two-year or four-year college. This places additional pressure on guidance counselors to emphasize a traditional collegiate route for students, regardless of their aptitude or interest areas. The same could be said for the average American household, which places greater value on children enrolling in a university over a trade school.

How schools can help

Mark Phillips, an educational journalist and teacher, believes that schools and counselors must do a better job legitimatizing vocational education and re-educating parents regarding the value of occupations that aren’t always in the career spotlight. There simply isn’t enough space in the world for every high school graduate to become a lawyer or brain surgeon, but an individual could make a very nice salary and live a happy life as a welder or chef.

“If we are to expect enlightenment and change in education, we have to be willing to be among the first to blaze the trail.”

There has never been a more exciting time to be part of the educational landscape. With the amount of information accessible at everyone’s fingertips, the traditions of the past are being questioned, and new ideas are being presented that can offer improved learning environments and choices for all students.

As educators, we must be willing to cast away old stigmas and be open-minded to different routes to education. There is no “traditional learner” in this day and age, so there should be no “traditional route” to a career. If we are to expect enlightenment and change in education, we have to be willing to be among the first to blaze the trail.

Related: Career and Technical Education Supports College and Career Readiness

Dr. Jason Perez is the head principal at Heritage Trails Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma, as well as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.

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