Is Career Readiness Out of High School a Myth?

Graduating high school ready to start a career is a myth, according to researchers on economics and education at Georgetown University. In an article in The Conversation, Anthony P. Carnevale, Andrew R. Hanson, and Megan Fasules call upon Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in the US to change.


Today’s CTE Programs Are Not Enough for Students to Succeed

The current K-12 academic system, what Carnevale calls a “standards-based academic curriculum,” was introduced in the mid-1980s. This curriculum replaced a system of “tracking,” which pigeonholed students by demographic; for example, low-income and students of color were placed in shop classes while young women took home economics.

Today’s academic curriculum operates as a “one-size-fits-all” solution, preparing students “for college and life in a modern democracy—but not for work in a particular job.” Many students have the opportunity to participate in CTE in addition to academic courses, but these do not adequately train them to start a career upon graduation. High school diplomas typically require around 27 credits, and, on average, CTE credits make up only 2.5 of those.

Of course, there are many advantages in current CTE systems. CTE courses offer students hands-on learning models, provide career exploration opportunities, and teach employability skills. Additionally, of students who do not earn postsecondary credentials, those who were “CTE Concentrators” (completing at least three CTE courses) earn about 90 cents more per hour.

However, CTE programs alone are not enough for students to start—and grow with—successful careers. “For today’s students to be prepared for tomorrow’s jobs, all pathways must lead to a credential with labor market value,” such as a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. 

CTE programs offer an opportunity to begin training for a career, but students must continue their education after high school and earn postsecondary credentials.


How Schools Can Supplement CTE Training

Carnevale recommends several steps that school systems can take to ensure their students do not fall into the half of young adults who fail to launch their careers.

First, schools should increase and continue to foster career exploration in middle school. This allows students to better understand and choose the courses they will complete in high school as they prepare for college or post-secondary training.

Similarly, students should have the chance to gain practical work experience in career fields before their junior years. This allows students to more thoroughly explore careers before they begin researching and applying for college or participating in CTE courses. 

The article also suggests teaching employability skills to all high school students, rather than limiting these lessons to CTE courses. Employability skills are increasingly important in today’s ever-changing job market, and students will need to master them no matter what career path they choose.

Finally, all students should be prepared to shop for postsecondary programs in their junior years. Students in both academic and CTE classrooms should understand that they need to earn postsecondary credentials to succeed, and teachers, principals, and counselors should be prepared to guide them as they explore programs.

What do you think about CTE programs? How can high school educators better prepare students? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn

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