Career Technical Education Has a Costly Perception Issue

Despite movements to bring career education more to the forefront and promote the significant opportunities that are available to skilled laborers, the perception of career and technical education (CTE) is, unfortunately, that it’s for students who can’t make it to college. A recent survey showed that 57% of adults say that CTE is for students who probably will not go to college, and 47% of adults say that students pursuing CTE are not as respected as those taking traditional classes.

Basically, CTE has a perception problem.

Yet, many CTE students earn more and have more fulfilling careers than those graduating from four-year colleges. Many students who opt for a four-year college find out that it’s not for them until it’s too late. Four out of every ten attendees at four-year schools drop out before completing their degree.

We Need to Change the Way That the Story Is Told

Changing the perception of CTE requires changing the way that its story is told. Too many students, parents, and even educators think of CTE as a negative thing when it comes to pathways and careers.

But 83% of those working in trades say that they are satisfied with their choice of work and cite meaning and value as reasons. Contrast that with the “Great Resignation” going on in many other careers, where workers say that a lack of value and meaning in their job is their reason for quitting.

There’s also a significant misperception about careers and pay scale. While many people believe that those pursuing trade-school training will work in low-paying jobs, that’s simply not the case. According to SimplyHired, the average salary for skilled workers is $75,707 a year.

In many cases, trade-school graduates start at higher wages than college graduates at entry-level positions. Also, since they graduate in less time, they start earning faster. With the high cost of college, student loans, and delayed entry to the workforce, the differences between lifetime earnings are not as significant as they may seem.

Salaries are extremely competitive due to the demand and the labor shortage across multiple industries. Average salaries include:

  • Electrician: $53,600
  • Maintenance mechanic: $45,300
  • HVAC technician: $43,800
  • Automotive technician: $43,100
  • Field service manager: $61,200

Beyond a satisfying career and competitive wages, there are additional benefits. Classes are typically smaller and more focused. Training and education cost far less, and flexible learning is often available. Trade jobs are also much harder, if not impossible, to outsource overseas.

It’s Crucial to Alter the Narrative

The perception of CTE needs to change—not just for students, parents, and educators but also for society.

The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation uses these adjectives to describe the need for workers: dire, urgent, and critical. Nearly half of all US companies say that they are dealing with a severe shortage of skilled workers to fill positions.

We’re also facing a growing number of retirements among tradespeople. More than a quarter of tradespeople are within ten years of retirement. The median age of those currently working in the trade is forty-three, which is 10% older than the general population. This can only exacerbate the problem.

Consider this: every year, 7,000 new electricians join the workforce. However, about 10,000 electricians retire annually. So, even as the demand for electricity services increases, we’re reducing the pool of workers by 3,000 every year.

Start Changing the Perception of CTE

Changing the perception of CTE can start by having schools, educators, and counselors provide equitable information and discussions about CTE vs. four-year schools. Students need to be presented with multiple career options, rather than just focusing on college prep.

Equal consideration should be given to all types of careers, including college, skilled trades, and military service. Educators should also create flexible curriculum plans that enable students to align their studies with their interests.

But this can be challenging for school counselors who are responsible for large numbers of students. While the American School Counselor Association recommends limiting counselors to one for every 250 students, many are solely responsible for more than 400 students. This makes it difficult to drill down into each student’s needs, interests, and desires.

That’s where XAP and Choices360 can help.

Choices360 is a flexible tool for students to do self-assessments to better understand how their interests and skills align with potential careers. It enables them to explore a wide range of careers and see the world of possibilities.

By examining skilled trades and college opportunities, students can make better decisions about their future. Whichever pathway students want to go down, counselors can help guide their academic planning with a ready-to-go curriculum or customized plan to foster achievement.

With robust tracking and benchmarking, Choices360 also helps hold students accountable to ensure that they are on the right track.

Here at XAP, we believe that exploration lays the foundation for planning. That’s why we help school and district counseling leaders implement equitable programs and strategies to ensure that students graduate high school not only with a diploma but also with a plan.

To see how we can help you better support your students and drive state, district, and school initiatives with greater ease, transparency, and data, feel free to contact our specialists today!

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