Feb. 21, 2024

Let's talk about CTE!

image of students in culinary arts class.

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, a time to consider the advantages that a good CTE program can bestow upon a school and community. CTE is about giving middle and high school students high-quality, hands-on learning opportunities to help them discover a career path that appeals to their interests and aligns with their life goals.

"CTE is essential for all students, as every student deserves career preparation, workforce development, and pathways to success," said Amy Miller, the assistant director of career and technical education at the South Dakota Department of Education (DOE). "Today’s CTE programs apply whether a student wants to begin employment immediately after high school, start an apprenticeship, go to a technical college, go to a four-year college, or seek a doctoral degree. CTE is a vital piece of the personal learning plan for all students."

A strong CTE program is good for young people in a community, but it also is a major benefit to the business community of the region. CTE programs vary from school to school because they reflect the opportunities available in the communities they serve. An area that attracts a lot of tourists will offer CTE classes in hospitality, while a farming community will have CTE programs that feature robust agricultural programs.

"CTE programs are aligned with the needs of local industries and employers, helping to bridge the gap between education and the skills that will be needed in modern industry," said Miller.

Although CTE programs may differ from each other, good programs have common elements, said Miller. Some of the commonalities she listed include industry-relevant curriculum and equipment, hands-on learning opportunities, qualified instructors, career exploration and guidance, and integration with academic subjects.

"Students should have the opportunity to take courses in a variety of content areas, but they should also be able to advance in one cluster,” said Miller. “Great CTE programs start with foundational skills and build in skill attainment, preparing a student to succeed in postsecondary or the workforce upon graduation."

Besides providing students the opportunity to explore career opportunities and ensuring that a community has a well-trained workforce, another benefit of CTE programs in schools is the effect they have on graduation rates. "For some students, traditional academic programs may not be engaging or relevant to their interests and career goals," said Miller. "CTE programs may provide a pathway to success, motivating students to stay in school and graduate. In South Dakota, the on-time graduation rate for students that participated in CTE was 11 percent higher than it was for students who did not participate in CTE classes."