The bullish economy that greeted high school and college graduates in 2006, when the feds last revamped career and technical education (CTE) programs, looks like ancient history six years later. Gone are many easy entrance points into steady careers, especially for “classically” trained liberal-arts majors. Yet despite high unemployment rates, firms complain of too few qualified applicants for their technical and blue-collar positions—making smart implementation of strong CTE policies all the more important. The Obama Administration’s recently released blueprint for overhauling the Perkins Act (which will dole out $1.14 billion in FY 2012) offers a thoughtful way forward. It looks to bridge the divide between employers’ needs and potential workers’ skills through four core principles: alignment (between CTE programs and labor market needs), collaboration (among secondary, postsecondary, and industry partners), accountability (based on common definitions and clear metrics), and innovation (supported by systemic reform). Accountability will prove the trickiest: CTE must shed the stigma that it’s a watered-down track for disruptive, lazy, or low-performing kids, meaning programs bearing this label must be held accountable for actually producing graduates who are well prepared for available jobs. Still, the blueprint offers an interesting solution: Create intra-state competitions to distribute funds, allowing these jurisdictions more autonomy to be responsive to regional market needs. This focus on working with employers to ensure excellent CTE education opportunities for all marks a promising start.
Office of Vocational and Adult Education, Investing in America’s Future: A Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2012).