Career and technical education (CTE) teachers help get today’s students into shape for tomorrow’s jobs. Educators say the need for CTE teachers will continue to rise to meet the demand for workers with the right skills.
“Our community colleges do an excellent job supplying technically skilled workers, but the number of graduates does not come close to filling our workforce needs,” says Ron Dexter. He’s the director of career and technical education at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon.
CTE, or vocational education, prepares students young and old for a wide range of careers. Common CTE subject areas include agriculture, business, family and consumer sciences, health, marketing, technology and skilled trades.
Students from these classes can find work everywhere from the catwalk to the kitchen. These programs can lead to a wide range of job titles: farmer, fashion designer, accountant, entrepreneur, chef, nurse, dental assistant, programmer or carpenter, just for starters.
“Career and technical education has changed a lot in the last 40 years,” says Dexter. “In the old vocational model, programs were focused primarily on programs that taught metals, woods, automotive, agriculture, home economics and business. Today, CTE provides many new career options for students.”
There is a need for teachers in all areas, especially in programs that offer state-of-the-art technology to meet the needs of business and industry.
The bottom line: All of this is great news for technical education teachers. A massive wave of teacher retirements is just about to begin, and there’s already an eye-opening shortage of workers.
Kevin English is a former Association for Career and Technical Education Teacher of the Year. He sums up the CTE teacher shortage with one word: “Opportunity!”
“Career and technical education teachers have the opportunity to monitor and adjust their programs to meet the changing needs of their community and industry partners,” says English. “To survive, industry has changed. CTE programs will need to do the same.
“The CTE teachers and programs that make the adjustments will thrive, and students will have viable employment opportunities.”
The Shortage of Skilled Vocational Workers: A Quick History
“For a long time, education was reserved for the privileged few and as a way to access the better jobs in society. Those not so fortunate to [be able to] afford ‘an education’ were counseled and sometimes forced to ‘take a trade’ and work under an experienced tradesperson to apprentice,” explains Gilbert Noussitou. He’s a member of a vocational instructors’ association and teaches culinary arts.
Kevin English tells a similar story.
“Many parents want their children to pursue careers different than their own, and pursue lofty goals. My parents were very strong on my going to college. Many parents have a negative perception of career and technical education. They tend to associate it with the outdated programs of the past, and fail to see the new opportunities that are there for students in CTE,” says English.
“This phenomenon has led to an increase of people with ‘an education’ and a shortage of people with trade skills,” Noussitou sums up.
Filling Available Positions: A Human Resource Challenge
“There are not enough career and technical teachers available,” says Dexter. “Most states have an alternate teaching licensure process for hiring CTE teachers based on their technical skills and related work experience, but the problem is not many people are aware that an alternate licensure pathway exists.
“So when there is a CTE teaching position available at a high school or community college, human resources staff almost always scramble to find a highly qualified instructor.”
Addressing the Shortage of CTE Teachers
Recruitment is a primary focus for CTE programs.
Marilynn Daye is in charge of a vocational instructor training program. Her students include trainers in the workplace, teachers in post-secondary schools who are experts in their field but do not have teaching expertise, and those who have an expertise and want to teach adults.
“Adults with an expertise take our program because there may be a lack of teachers with that expertise, or many teachers with that expertise may be retiring,” she says.
“Also, they just want to try something new. Many have just gained a lot of experience in a certain area, have a passion for it, and want to teach their passion. In continuing education and part-time studies, we love teachers and trainers who are passionate about their expertise! Many continue to work full time (as accountants or nurses or whatever), and then teach their passion in the evenings.
“Most teachers and trainers who take our program already have expertise in something, whether it’s makeup, welding or autobody. We teach them how to teach, not what to teach. Our program shows teachers and trainers how best to help all learners in their diverse classroom settings,” says Daye.
Noussitou says he believes there are enough highly trained individuals willing and ready to take on vocational instructor jobs. The only catch is that the education system must also be willing to treat them and pay them as highly skilled workers.
What It Takes to Succeed
CTE teachers must constantly work to keep on top of trends in their field.
“The CTE teacher needs to have educational training, area-specific training, time for externships, time to run their career and technical student organization, and [time to] manage the many other facets of the job,” says English. “CTE teachers by nature are problem solvers, like a dynamic environment, are willing to adapt to the needs of their communities.”
“If a person really enjoys sharing their technical expertise and knowledge with young people, CTE teaching can provide a very satisfying and rewarding career,” says Dexter.